Calif. signature drive for Arizona-style immigration law gets OK

Nov 23 2010 - 11:54pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California Secretary of State's office on Tuesday authorized a signature drive by a "Tea Party" activist to put an Arizona-style immigration law before California voters.

Called the "Support Federal Immigration Law Act," the proposal was submitted to state authorities in September by Michael Erickson, a Tea Party activist in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Belmont and former chairman of the Sonoma County Republican Party.

Erickson, speaking at a videotaped rally on his initiative's website, said a legal team drafted a version of Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, which requires that police investigate a person's legal status if an officer has reasonable suspicion about that status.

"Since we're never going to get something like this passed through the Democrat-controlled Legislature, it's going to be we the people who are going to make it happen," Erickson, a business consultant, said at the rally.

Erickson said Tuesday that he's tried to draft his proposal -- which also makes it a state crime to hire illegal immigrants -- to avoid constitutional pitfalls. The Arizona law now faces challenges that it is unconstitutional and an overreaching of state law into federal responsibility for immigration enforcement.

Initiative supporters must gather at least 433,971 signatures of registered voters by April 21 to qualify for an election. Erickson said he'd aim to put the measure before voters during the 2012 election cycle.

The effort will rely largely on volunteers from California's Tea Party network, Erickson said.

Karin Wang, vice president of programs at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center -- which joined lawsuits against the Arizona law -- said she doubts that most California voters today would favor such a "strongly worded" measure to address illegal immigration.

"Look at where our state was on the midterm elections," she said, referring to victories by Democrats who did not support Arizona's law.

"California is in a very different place than Arizona. There are lots of first-generation, second- and third-generation immigrants and others who do not support things like this."

Erickson's proposal would make it a state crime in California for undocumented persons to seek work while hiding their immigration status, and a state crime for employers to "intentionally or negligently" hire an illegal immigrant.

The measure would also require all highway patrol, police, sheriff's deputies and other officers to probe a person's status if they are "reasonably suspicious" that a person they stopped is in the country illegally.

The difference with Arizona's law, Erickson said, is that officers would have to contact federal immigration authorities and conduct such a check within a "timely manner" and could not hold a person for a long period of time.

Like the Arizona law, the proposal would also seek to let legal residents sue officials or agencies if they refuse to carry out this type of immigration enforcement.

Arizona's law was blocked by a federal judge, and a ruling on it is pending from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187 in an effort to curtail state services for illegal immigrants, an effort largely blocked in the courts.

Since then, Wang said that proposals to impose state enforcement over immigration -- such as creating a state border police -- all have failed to garner enough signatures to make it to a ballot.

In July, the California Field Poll found that California voters were much less likely to support Arizona's immigration law compared to voters nationally.

At that time, voters nationwide told pollsters they approved of Arizona's law by about a 2-1 margin.

The Field Poll found that 49 percent of voters in California approved of it, while 45 percent disapproved and 6 percent didn't know.

Sixty-two percent of Latinos, who are 22 percent of registered voters, strongly disapproved of Arizona's law, compared to 25 percent of whites.

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