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Latino response to immigrant measure in holding pattern

The Arizona Republic

But the coalition to fight Protect Arizona Now says support and money will pour in if the initiative makes it on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The Arizona Republic

Arizona’s most influential Latino groups and leaders have done little to slow the Protect Arizona Now initiative, and some say that vague political strategies, lack of resources and apathy have been the opposition’s biggest challenges.

“We’ve been asleep,” said state Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix. “(And) no one’s come forward. The unions haven’t come forward. The Democratic Party hasn’t come forward. The traditional allies for the Latino community in this fight simply have not come forward.”

Some are holding out in hopes that the immigrant measure won’t make the ballot, but others are resigned to it being passed by voters. Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic Party, which enjoys the widespread support of Latinos in Arizona, has acted only as an observer and will vote next month to see how it might move, if at all.

Though the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has yet to make it official, Proposition 200, commonly known as Protect Arizona Now, is likely destined for the Nov. 2 ballot. It would require Arizonans to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote and show identification when casting a ballot at the polls. It would also make it a crime for state and local government employees to fail to report suspected illegal immigrants seeking public benefits.

Members of the 25-member anti-PAN Statue of Liberty, a broad-based coalition of groups, said they have unofficially drummed up the support of labor unions, business organizations, Democratic Party leaders and deep-pocketed individuals to fight the measure.

But as of the end of June, the group had raised only $38,403 and had spent most of it, although some members have little doubt supporters would get enough valid signatures to send the initiative to voters.

Alfredo Gutierrez, Statue of Liberty’s co-chairman, has indicated the coalition would need to raise about $2 million to wage a competitive campaign and has insisted the money will begin to pour in once the secretary of state deems there are enough valid signatures. That decision is expected in early August.

With the election three months away, they said it’s time for the coalition to intensify its plan of attack – “even if it is a lost cause” – for symbolic reasons, Miranda said.

Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, is working with other Arizonans to create a separate nonprofit group with a goal of raising $1 million to fight the initiative at the polls and in the courts if necessary.

“They can’t do it by themselves,” he said of the coalition.

Samuel Esquivel, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Arizona, is worried about the apparent lack of organization to fight the initiative and that people like him were relying on the leaders of the coalition to come up with a strategy.

Groups like his chose County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, Gutierrez and others to focus on the Protect Arizona Now campaign, he said.

“We are counting on these folks to lead us into battle. Maybe they have something up their sleeves, but they have been very quiet about it,” Esquivel said.

Wilcox said the coalition is taking a wait-and-see attitude to see if the initiative has the 122,612 valid signatures. Part of the problem, Gutierrez said, is asking PAN opponents for money to fight a battle they might not have to fight.

“All of them are standing in waiting to see in fact if there is a battle here worthy of their weapons,” he said.

Luis Ibarra, president and chief operating officer for Friendly House, said that those opposing the initiative don’t have deep pockets and that there aren’t enough groups able to bankroll the campaign.

“There isn’t a whole lot people can do to fight this initiative except to talk to voters,” he said.

The Arizona Democratic Party has lined up behind the coalition but hasn’t taken an official stance.

The Arizona Republican Party said last year it does not support Protect Arizona Now.

Gov. Janet Napolitano and other leaders have come out against it. But that alone won’t mean much without an organized campaign to defeat the measure, pollster Bruce Merrill said.

“If the initiative gets on the ballot, it will pass easily unless there is significant organized opposition,” said Merrill, a political science professor at Arizona State University.

Still, the initiative has the potential of energizing Hispanic voters much as Proposition 187 did in California, he added.

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