Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

An Arizona-style initiative in California?

California state flag, San Francisco, October 2008
California state flag, San Francisco, October 2008
Photo by Sam/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Shortly before Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration measure was signed into law last spring, I spoke with a few political experts about what sort of ripple effect it might have. The general consensus was that there would definitely be one, with similar bills introduced in state legislatures and as ballot initiatives. But this would be more likely in states relatively new to the immigration debate, where culture clashes are felt most intensely. In California, given its immigrant history and the legacy of Proposition 187 (the 1994 ballot initiative that sought to bar undocumented immigrants from public services, was voted in, but failed to make it through a court challenge) an attempt at an Arizona-style law in California seemed unlikely.

But then, anything is possible in California. On September 30, Michael Erickson, a Tea Party activist from the small Bay Area city of Belmont, filed a proposal with the state attorney general's office in Sacramento for a ballot initiative to create the "Support Federal Immigration Law Act." He billed it as "Arizona-style immigration reform" in an e-mailed news release yesterday.

The idea is to get the initiative onto the state ballot in 2012, Erickson said by phone. Erickson, who described himself as a business consultant, said he drafted the proposed initiative with help from attorneys and worked with veterans of the Proposition 187 campaign, though he did not want to disclose names of individuals or groups he worked with. Erickson said he has law degree, but is not licensed to practice.

The initiative is patterned after SB 1070, though precautions were taken to avoid some of the rough spots that led to parts of the Arizona law being blocked by a federal judge last July, and which have prompted a forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court review. Among the provisions similar to those of SB 1070:

- Local law enforcement officers would be allowed to check for immigration status during "any lawful stop, detention, or arrest" if there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally, though with caveats regarding how immigration status should be verified with the federal government in "a timely manner" and another barring race, color or national origin as the sole purpose for a stop.

- There is a provision barring undocumented immigrants from soliciting work in California, though what constitutes a violation has been adapted to "conceal(ing) his or her immigration status while applying for work"

- There is a provision barring law enforcement agencies and local jurisdictions from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws, i.e. so-called "sanctuary" policies

- Transporting undocumented immigrants would be a state crime, as would be "knowingly or negligently" hiring unauthorized workers

Erickson said that in order to qualify for the ballot, supporters would eventually need to gather more than 430,000 signatures. He said that he and others who helped draft the initiative are not discouraged by the precedent set by Proposition 187, and possibly by SB 1070 if the state loses to the federal government's pre-emption challenge in the Supreme Court.

"I do believe that the political will is there to pass it," Erickson said. "In terms of a court challenge, obviously, we'll see what happens."