Don't thwart effort to limit public benefits - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Don't thwart effort to limit public benefits

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Posted: Saturday, December 5, 2009 2:21 pm | Updated: 1:58 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Rep. Russell Pearce: A recent Tribune opinion piece sided with cities that, via a lawsuit, are seeking to overturn the mandate to check for public-benefits eligibility that the Legislature passed last summer. The measure was adopted during a special session to address Arizona's financial crisis, but its roots go back to Proposition 200, also known as the "Arizona's Taxpayers and Citizens Protection Act," which more than 1 million voters passed in 2004.

Enough is enough!

A recent Tribune opinion piece sided with cities that, via a lawsuit, are seeking to overturn the mandate to check for public-benefits eligibility that the Legislature passed last summer. The measure was adopted during a special session to address Arizona's financial crisis, but its roots go back to Proposition 200, also known as the "Arizona's Taxpayers and Citizens Protection Act," which more than 1 million voters passed in 2004.

The Tribune column was much like those cities in seeking to undermine legislative action by judicial fiat and completely misread the intent of the Legislature and the situation Arizona faces.

What voters demanded

Proposition 200 had three parts to it.

Proof of citizenship to register to vote: The U.S. Constitution established more than 200 years ago that only citizens may vote. The initiative requires everyone equally to prove eligibility, as does our state constitution. Thanks to Proposition 200, ACORN's attempts to commit voter fraud were thwarted here in Arizona.

Photo identification when voting: Photo identification is required to cash a check, apply for welfare, sign a lease, or get a rental card at a video store.

Proof of eligibility to receive public benefits not mandated by the federal government: The initiative would have required everyone to provide proof of eligibility equally. The Urban Institute in 1994 and the University of Arizona in 2001 studied this extensively, and both estimated the costs of public benefits for illegal immigrants to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Attorney General Terry Goddard and former Gov. Janet Napolitano refused to implement the third provision to require proof of eligibility to get taxpayer benefits. It was a backdoor veto of the people's vote, but I was not dissuaded. After all, a strong part of the rationale for the measure, "the curtailment of public expenditures on benefits for illegal aliens," was left unaddressed. So I continued to fight for closure while the problem got worse.

The costs are real

Many open-borders advocates minimize the impact of illegal immigration, but it is truly monumental. The cost of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System has exploded to $5 billion annually. There are more people enrolled in AHCCCS than in K-12 education! Arizona spends $330 million to educate illegal immigrant students and $480 million to educate U.S.-born children of illegal immigrant adults, according to a 2004 estimate from the Federation for American Immigration Reform. One third of children in Arizona have immigrant parents.

Arizona hospitals spend $150 million annually on care for illegal immigrants. Some rural hospitals have had to downscale or close. Maricopa County Hospital loses more than $2 million weekly on uncompensated care (largely due to illegal aliens).

We are fortunate in Arizona to have at least one tool in place to address illegal-immigration-driven public expenditures. When we adopted workplace eligibility verification (Arizona's Fair and Legal Employment Act), we began to turn off the jobs magnet. But we need more. We need verification of benefits eligibility to cut off the public expenditures that sustain illegal immigrants.

Unfortunately, we have too many elected officials who pander to the cheap labor lobby and open-borders groups. They do not want any immigration enforcement, let alone the adoption of those few measures a state can adopt to protect its taxpayers.

Today we are faced with cutting services to citizens, yet the cities are still demanding that illegal immigrants receive taxpayer benefits. Some of their arguments are old and tiresome: We will be cutting off benefits for citizens. Cities should not become the immigration police. And some cities worry they will become targets of frivolous lawsuits, as if citizens have nothing better to do with their lives than harass well-meaning public servants.

We must have responsible policies to protect our citizens. That is our job. The average taxpayer bears the burden of our bloated welfare system. As long as we have a welfare state combined with a federal government abdicating its responsibility to protect our borders, we (Arizona) must necessarily resort to self-help, and let the shirkers and the cowards go cry elsewhere.

The choice is now

There is currently a battle raging in this country that will determine whether our nation enforces its immigration laws and secures its borders or becomes a victim of its enemies. We are a nation built upon the "rule of law," and either we stand up for the principles that our Founding Fathers gave us to ensure lasting liberty, enshrined in a Constitution that protects those liberties, or we destroy all that is sacred and the end result will be a nation that commits suicide.

The time has come to fight. Fight to keep God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Fight to keep God in our national motto. Fight to keep the Ten Commandments on public display. Fight to return prayer to the classrooms. Fight against abortion, fight against pornography, fight to secure our borders, fight to preserve the rule of law, fight, fight, fight, and (in the words of Winston Churchill) never, never, never, never give up!

The Legislature adopted necessary and constitutional measures to fix our budget this summer that will save taxpayer dollars in this fiscal year and have important ramifications for future ones. As it happens, benefits-eligibility verification will bring closure to the effort started with Proposition 200 and fulfill the voters' wishes. This doesn't make it less important than other measures in protecting taxpayers, just a more vulnerable target for those who want to side with lawbreakers.

Even federal law points to Arizona taking this action:

"A person (including a group of persons, business, organization, or local government) commits a federal felony when she or he: assists an illegal alien she/he should reasonably knows is illegally in the U.S. or who lacks employment authorization, by transporting, sheltering, or assisting him or her to obtain employment, or encourages that illegal alien to remain in the U.S. by referring him or her to an employer or by acting as employer or agent for an employer in any way, or knowingly assists illegal aliens due to personal convictions. (8 U.S. Code 1324)."

With the lack of enforcement, illegal immigrants recognize the open invitation to enter illegally. The benefits of lawbreaking exceed their wildest dreams.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and was a leader of the successful efforts to pass Proposition 200 in 2004 and Arizona's Fair and Legal Employment Act in 2007.

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