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Students and religious leaders lead the uphill battle to oppose Proposition 300

Groups of students and religious leaders have organized to defeat Proposition 300, but trends indicate they're in store for disappointment on Election Day.

Prop 300 would deny people who are in this country illegally access to child-care subsidies, adult-education classes and state-funded financial aid or in-state tuition prices at colleges and universities. The measure, which was submitted to voters by the Legislature, would also require program and school administrators to document and report how many people were turned down for such benefits after not being able to prove their citizenship.

Many speakers at a student-led press conference at the University of Arizona on Monday, Oct. 30, touched upon a similar theme: Proposition 300 is a "mean-spirited" attempt to scapegoat Latinos.

"The issue is paranoia--xenophobes that are out there and see our numbers and wonder and fear us," said Lorraine Lee, executive vice president of Chicanos por la Causa. "The reality is that there are 12 million people in this country who are working every day, who are living to make a better life for themselves. All we are asking is for a fair chance, to be treated like human beings."

Lee said the proposition would turn daycare workers, teachers and school officials into immigration enforcers: "That is not the America that I believe our forefathers and foremothers had in their minds."

Olga Briseño, director of the UA's Media, Democracy and Policy Initiative, told a story about her mother being unable to use restrooms in the 1940s because of her ethnicity. She saw Proposition 300 as an extension of that kind of prejudice.

"When you come out with propositions that are anti-Latino, what follows is racism," Briseño said. "Let me just spell it out here: It is racist to hear some of the things that we have heard about Latinos, and it is unfair to our young people to have to bear this burden."

One such young person, Edna Osuna, was incredulous about how useful the initiative would be to stop illegal immigration.

"When I first heard about this proposition ... it shocked me," the nursing freshman at Pima Community College said. "My first thought was: Is this law meant to stop immigration? Because to me, it's not. Not a lot of people come here to go to college. They come here to work."

Perhaps three dozen people showed up for the press conference. Churchgoers who had attended Prop 300 forums put on by the Pima County Interfaith Council were encouraged to attend. However, most of the onlookers appeared to be students or people affiliated with the speakers. Peter Hershberger, a moderate Republican running for re-election to the state House in Legislative District 26, also attended, but he refused to speak to the crowd.

Republican state Sen. Dean Martin, who sponsored the measure, and other supporters claim Prop 300 is necessary to stop illegal immigrants from draining tax dollars when they access state services.

Polls show many Arizonans appear to be on board with Martin's reasoning. One conducted by Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Phoenix's KAET-TV Oct. 19-22 found 45 percent of 1,019 registered voters supporting the measure, with 38 percent opposed and 17 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three points. It showed support for the proposition may be slipping; KAET's poll in late August found 50 percent of 846 registered voters supporting the measure, with 35 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided.

However, another recent poll, put out by Northern Arizona University's Social Research Laboratory, found much greater support. Fully 70 percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat supported the measure, with only 22 percent opposed. That poll, taken Oct. 11-16, surveyed 403 likely voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Days before the UA press conference, the Weekly dropped in on one of the last of approximately 20 PCIC forums in Pima County. Only about six people attended, despite there being chairs for a roomful.

The event was held at a Catholic church, and organizers distributed fliers indicating that the Arizona Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected Prop 300. While it would run afoul of tax laws for churches to endorse a particular candidate in an election, it's acceptable for them to take a stand on propositions.

"While nations need to protect their borders, we ought not as a society impose punitive measures on children and prevent them from educational opportunities," the flier read.

Jan Jefferson, a PCIC leader from the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria, said the proposition was a "political move" to keep the polarizing immigration debate "stirred up." She told people the measure would punish children who may not know they're here illegally and have gone through primary and secondary schools only to find themselves priced out of a college education. If that were to happen, it would be a wasted investment in these children, she continued.

"We need a real solution to solve our immigration problem," Jefferson said.

Back at the press conference, former Tucson mayor George Miller told the crowd such solutions are missing from this year's ballot. He called all the illegal-immigrant propositions "totally irrelevant" to the problems at hand. The correct solution is one that takes jobs into account, he said.

"So what we have here in Proposition 300 is something that is absolutely ridiculous in terms of it stopping illegal immigration," said Miller, a Democrat. "There's nothing in there that would do that. And so what we need to do is make sure our people who are elected to office come up with a plan, a plan that actually would allow people to come in here legally (and) match the people who need to work in this country with the jobs that are needed."

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