Arkansas Illegal Immigrant Benefit Ban (2008)

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The Illegal Immigrant Benefit Ban would have required citizenship or an alternate legal status to be verified or expressed before Arkansans over age 13 could receive public benefits.

This measure was a citizen-initiated state statute. If it had been approved, it would have require state agencies and political subdivisions to "verify the lawful presence in the United States" of anyone over the age of 13 who has applied for a local, state, and certain federal public benefits that are administered by state agencies or political subdivisions. Applicants for benefits would be required to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they are in the U.S. lawfully.

Arkansas continues to have one of the fastest growing Hispanic populations in the nation. Studies have indicated that about half of Arkansas' immigrant population lives in the state illegally.[1]

Details of the proposal

The proposal would have excluded illegal immigrants from post-secondary education benefits, including scholarships and financial aid, and would prohibit in-state tuition rates for undocumented students.

Exceptions would have been allowed for emergency medical conditions, organ transplants, disaster relief, treatment of disease, prenatal care, soup kitchens, crisis counseling, and short-term shelters.[2]

The popular title reads:

An Act to prevent persons unlawfully present in the United States from receiving certain public benefits.

Supporters

Secure Arkansas, a grassroots organization "committed to the rule of law and the fair treatment of both citizens and legal immigrants," sponsored the initiative.

"Arkansas families deserve to know where their tax dollars are going and deserve to know that those tax dollars are not being used to subsidize illegal immigration—that's what this ballot initiative is about and that's why I'm confident it will pass," said Jeannie Burlsworth, Secure Arkansas chairwoman.[3]

Burlsworth added that she was concerned about collecting enough signature before the July 7, 2008, deadline. She said the group was low on funds but getting new volunteers daily.[2]

Also supporting the measure is a group called Keep Arkansas Legal.[4]

Conservative activist Debbie Pelley of Jonesboro is also supporting the measure. She disputed Governor Mike Beebe's comments that the initiative is unnecessary because its major provisions are already covered by federal or state laws.[5]

"Beebe says he opposes the initiative; saying it would only duplicate state and federal laws; he doesn't tell the people that almost any benefit... forbidden to aliens by the federal government can be given to them by the state—if the state just passes a law to do so," Pelley said. "And there are many so-called 'compassionate' liberals in Arkansas just waiting to do that."[5]

Pelley noted that legislators have tried and likely will try again to pass state laws giving illegal immigrants benefits in Arkansas. "Beebe's reasons for opposing the initiative are groundless, unreasonable and deceitful," she added.[5]

State Rep. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) is supporting the measure. In a speech June 25, 2008, to the Washington County Republican Women, Woods said citizen activists are leading Arkansas public officials to take "baby steps" to address the illegal alien issues in Arkansas.[6]

"The more we talk about it, and the more we let our elected officials know it's an issue and it needs to be dealt with... the more something is being done about it,” Woods said.[6]

Woods offered as an example that the state's largest public universities weren't requiring prospective students to verify their legal status before offering lower in-state tuition rates, but that Gov. Beebe requested that they do so after citizen activists raised the issue.[6]

Opponents

Governor of Arkansas Mike Beebe announced his opposition to the measure on May 19, 2008. "While I oppose illegal immigration, I cannot support this initiative," Beebe said. "All of the major provisions it proposes are already covered by federal or state laws, and this ballot title will create bigger government and cost Arkansans money. Passing this initiative would merely re-state these same laws and add additional bureaucracy to Arkansas in the process."[7]

The measure is cause for concern, said the Rev. Steve Copley, the chairman of the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, a statewide advocacy group made up of church, civic, and business leaders that opposes punitive state and municipal laws targeting immigrants in the state. The group's argues that "state and local money should not be wasted trying to fix a problem that ultimately only the federal government can solve."[8]

"A law that's really punitive that might cause folks to not settle here or either leave, I think, would have a damaging affect on Arkansas' economy," Copley said.[2]

Copley said the measure could test public sentiments, calling it "kind of a litmus test of how the feelings really run in Arkansas on this issue."[2]

Language rejected, resubmitted, finally approved

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved Secure Arkansas's third draft of a popular name and ballot title for the proposal on May 7, 2008. The group is now free to begin its petition drive to get the measure on the November general election ballot.[1]

McDaniel had rejected the ballot language for the initative a second time on April 30, 2008, again cited remaining ambiguities in the text and the "length and complexity" of the proposed ballot title, which he said would make the measure vulnerable to a court challenge.[9]

After the second rejection, Burlsworth said McDaniel "obviously has got another political agenda" and that she suspected he wanted to "stall me out" to make it more difficult to gather petition signatures to qualify the proposal for the general election ballot.[10]

McDaniel rejected the original language on April 9, 2008, citing ambiguous language in the measure. He said the length of the ballot title—923 words—was "troublesome."[11] (Read more details below.)

Kenny Wallis, president of Keep Arkansas Legal, an organization supporting the measure, questioned the attorney general's impartiality on April 21, 2008, revealing that his organization uncovered more than $36,000 in contribtions to McDaniel's 2006 campaign for attorney general from individuals associated with the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, a group opposing this measure.[4]

"Arkansas voters deserve to know who might be influencing the attorney general's decision on an issue as important as their right to vote on a ballot measure concerning illegal immigration," Wallis said.[4]

Wallis said he was not asking McDaniel to recuse himself from considering the proposed initiated act; however, he said, "We believe that this influences his decision-making and that the people need to be made aware of this."[4]

Wallis's $36,000 figure includes contributions McDaniel received from Tyson Foods, Don Tyson, and John Tyson, none of whom is part of the coalition, according to Stephen Copley, the coalition's chairman.[4]

Jeannie Burlsworth, chairwoman for Secure Arkansas, said she was aware of Wallis' news release and appreciated the help. "I'm shocked and it definitely does concern me," she said. "I'm not sure that (McDaniel) is going to be impartial at all."[4]

McDaniel spokesman Gabe Holmstrom said the matter "doesn't merit a comment."[4]

McDaniel said he has advised the group several times to hire an attorney to assist in the proposal's drafting, which could speed up its approval. He said he told the group's lobbyist that "one of the options that I had available to me was to attempt to substitute language that might be suitable.

"However, because Mrs. Burlsworth and the group had publicly challenged my objectivity and had wrongfully alleged that I had some political bias, which I do not, I felt uncomfortable with substituting any language," McDaniel said.[9]

Rockefeller Foundation study analyzes impact of immigrants

A 2007 study on immigrants in Arkansas, funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, reported that the immigrant population, both legal and illegal, was responsible for a $2.9 billion economic impact in Arkansas in 2004 and caused 23,100 new jobs to be spun off. The study found further that illegal immigrants make possible $1.4 billion in production annually for state manufacturers and other companies, which pay them $95 million less than they would pay legal residents.[2]

The study found that Arkansas's immigrant population grew by 276% during the 1990s.

Status

Supporters worked up to the last minute collecting signatures but were unable to gather the necessary number before the July 7, 2008, deadline.[12] Supporters collected 56,122 signatures, short of the 61,974 valid signatures required to make the ballot.[13]

The petition drive got a late start due to several problems with getting the measure's ballot language approved. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved Secure Arkansas's third draft of a popular name and ballot title for the proposal on May 7, 2008. The group is now free to begin its petition drive to get the measure on the November general election ballot.[1] Supporters must collect 61,974 signatures by July 7, 2008.

This measure was filed March 27, 2008, but McDaniel rejected the ballot language on April 9, 2008, citing ambiguous language in the measure. He said the length of the ballot title—923 words—was "troublesome."[11]

Secure Arkansas submitted revised language to McDaniel for approval on April 21, 2008, hoping to sufficiently address his concerns about the first draft. The new proposal is about 200 words shorter than the first, which McDaniel called "unnecessarily lengthy."[14] However, McDaniel rejected the ballot language for a second time on April 30, 2008, again cited remaining ambiguities in the text and the "length and complexity" of the proposed ballot title, which he said would make the measure vulnerable to a court challenge.[9]

On the first draft, McDaniel took issue with the initiative's name, which, he wrote, gives the impression the measure would deny benefits that are currently being provided. He added that the name "may be incorrect to the extent it fails to acknowledge that access to many public benefits by undocumented immigrants is currently restricted by federal law."[11]

Additionally, he said the ballot title did not sufficiently specify what public benefits would be affected, nor define the term "qualified alien."[11]

See also

External links

References