Foes of government services for illegal immigrants renewed their efforts Monday to force state agencies to demand proof of legal presence before providing any benefits. Legal papers filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contend that Gov. Janet Napolitano is ignoring the plain language of Proposition 200, approved by voters in 2004.
The measure, approved on a 56-44 percent margin, denies "state and local benefits" to those who are neither citizens nor legal residents.
What happened, according to the suit, is that Attorney General Terry Goddard subsequently issued a legal opinion concluding the initiative applies only to programs in Title 46 - the state Welfare Code - and not to programs like the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's health insurance for the poor. And even within the Welfare Code, Goddard concluded it does not apply to anything that involves federal money.
Napolitano, relying on that opinion, directed her agency chiefs to demand proof of legal residency for a handful of programs such as rental and housing assistance.
A trial judge threw out the initial lawsuit. But the state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously last year that initiative supporters can sue the governor over how she is enforcing the voter-approved law.
And the appellate court said supporters of Proposition 200 can sue the directors of several state agencies to force them to demand proof of legal residency before providing government services.
That paved the way for Monday's court filing.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, one of the architects of the initiative, said taking the governor to court is the only way to ensure that the initiative, which Napolitano openly opposed, is enforced.
"She's the one that marched in the streets in Tucson against Prop. 200," he said. He called the governor's limited interpretation of the initiative "a back-door veto."
"The people of this state ought to be outraged," he said.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer said staff lawyers were studying the latest court filing. But she said Napolitano has not ignored the law and is simply following the advice of Goddard, who is her legal counsel.
"These guys have asked the court to make a different decision, and they have the right to do that," L'Ecuyer said. "And if the court orders a different interpretation we'll deal with that when that happens."
Neither Pearce nor Randy Pullen, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, provided specific proof Monday that any benefits are being offered to those here illegally, other than those the state must provide like public education and emergency health care.
"We don't have to go out and prove it," Pullen said.
"We know it's going on," Pearce said. "Everybody knows what's going on."
What proof a court would require - and who would have to prove it - remains unclear.
"The governor has the constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed and to transact all executive business with the officers of the government," appellate Judge G. Murray Snow wrote in last year's decision.
But the ruling suggests that Napolitano may have to show she is complying.
Snow specifically said those who pushed the initiative have the legal right to seek judicial review of how she directed the law be applied. And the judge pointed out that Proposition 200 itself spells out that any Arizona resident can sue any state or local agencies not complying with the law.