California group pushes initiative modeled on Arizona’s immigration-status law

Proponents of a California initiative modeled after Arizona’s controversial immigration law may begin gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot in 2012, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Tuesday.

The measure would require state and local law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of anyone they lawfully stop and “reasonably” suspect may be in the country illegally. It would also make it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek work while concealing their legal status and for employers to “intentionally or negligently” hire them.

Initiative proponent Michael Erickson would need to collect signatures from 433,971 registered voters by April 21, 2011, to qualify it for the ballot. If it is validated, the measure could be placed before voters in February or June of 2012.

The Obama administration challenged Arizona’s law in court, arguing that SB 1070 usurped the federal government’s sole authority to regulate immigration. A federal judge blocked key portions of the law in July just before it was slated to take effect.


Both sides are awaiting a decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the lower court’s ruling.

Erickson, chairman of the Belmont-based Support Federal Immigration Law Committee, said he had studied the federal judge’s decision when crafting his initiative and is confident that it would pass any legal challenges.

Unlike the Arizona law, the California proposal specifies that law enforcement officers must verify immigration status “in a timely manner at the scene of the stop or detainment” and may only do so through information provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal agencies.

Erickson said the proponents decided to introduce an initiative in California before the Arizona legal battle had run its course in part because they were concerned about the spillover effects of the Arizona law.

“Our concern is with the possibility, if not probability, of an increase in not only illegal immigration in California but with a drug infestation, in part because Arizona is cracking down in their state,” he said.

Angelica Salas, executive director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said she did not believe Californians would support the proposal. She pointed to several similar attempts in the last 10 years that failed to qualify for the ballot.

“What we saw on Nov. 2, those candidates who dabble with racism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies, lose badly in statewide elections,” Salas said.

Fiscal review of the proposed measure by the state’s legislative analyst and finance director noted that it could lead to “potentially significant cost savings” in government services provided to illegal immigrants. But the analysis also pointed out that the measure could lead to tens of millions of dollars in increased costs to the criminal justice system to arrest, prosecute and detain migrants.