The provisions of a newly passed state initiative aimed at keeping illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits are limited, applying only to some welfare-related programs, Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard said Friday.
Proposition 200 opponents and some supporters had argued that it would apply to numerous state and local programs, ranging from library cards to admittance to state parks, but Goddard said otherwise in an advisory legal opinion.
Approved by voters on Nov. 2 and expected to become law this month, Proposition 200 requires proof of immigration status when applying for public benefits. It also requires public employees to report suspected illegal immigrants who try to obtain benefits.
The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid healthcare program for poor people, asked Goddard to explain the meaning of Proposition 200’s reference to “state and local public benefits.”
Goddard said that the wording was unclear but that he decided that only programs under Arizona’s welfare law are covered because Proposition 200 only amended that law. However, even many welfare programs, including food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are exempt because they are federally required, he said.
Goddard said his office is still studying other welfare programs but said Proposition 200 may apply to some that provide housing and rental assistance and another that provides small cash stipends to disabled people awaiting Social Security benefits.
Proposition 200 does not apply to programs authorized under nonwelfare laws because Proposition 200 did not amend either the laws that cover all state government or those dealing with other specific programs, he said.
Goddard’s opinion was eagerly awaited by other state agencies and local governments throughout Arizona.
Supporters of Proposition 200 are divided on whether its provisions apply only to welfare programs.
Kathy McKee, chairman of a group that led the campaign to put the initiative on the ballot, said drafters purposely limited its reach to avoid setting the stage for a successful court challenge.
“He got it dead on the money,” McKee said of Goddard’s opinion.
Randy Pullen, chairman of another group that campaigned for Proposition 200, has said it should also extend to retirement, disability, public housing assistance, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefits, grants, contracts, loans, driver’s licenses and hunting licenses.
Pullen has said his group would argue that position to defend the law from an expected legal challenge. Pullen did not immediately return a call Friday.
Opponents argued during the campaign that the initiative could affect numerous programs and services, and state officials said before and after the public vote that they didn’t know its reach.
Goddard’s opinion won’t be the last word on the matter because Arizona attorney general opinions are advisory and not considered binding on courts.