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The Folly of Arizona's Proposition 300

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Message Larry Sakin
Life in Arizona can be quite anachronistic. While citizens here have all the conveniences of modern technology and skyscrapers that pierce the light blue sky, the state sometimes resembles the Old West politically and culturally. Take Proposition 300, a 2006 ballot initiative forcing undocumented migrants to pay out-of-state tuition costs to attend college. On its face, the proposal appears to have the anti-immigrant, anti-tax measures Arizona conservatives crave. But when you scratch beneath the surface, its apparent how dangerously amiss this plan really is.

Proponents say that prohibiting this service to the undocumented curtails the amount of people crossing our border with Mexico. They also believe the act is necessary to comply with the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Reconciliation Act of 1996. However, the federal law cited doesn't require such a measure, and the effect of the legislation will have a negligible effect upon the undocumented population.

Ten states around the country have enacted laws which allow children of immigrants to receive in-state tuition under certain conditions. They include the attendance of a school in the state for a specific number of years, graduation from high school in the state, and a signed affidavit stating that they have either applied to legalize their status or will do so as soon as eligible. Four of those states-Utah, Texas, New Mexico and California-are neighbors of Arizona. These states recognize that federal immigration law allows this benefit to be extended to U.S. citizens and immigrants alike as long as they meet state residency requirements. As for curtailing the amount of border crossers, its unlikely people willing to take a life threatening journey across Mexico and the southern border regions of Arizona are going to stop because their kids won't become stock brokers with the help of state financing.

Anti-tax conservatives believe the state will save millions with this prohibition. However, built into Proposition 300 is an unfunded mandate shifting taxpayer money into a college bureaucracy which checks student immigration status and ensures they have proper identification proving residency. The legislators backing the initiative do not account for the long term effects the prohibition will have on Arizona's economic health. College graduates becoming professionals are highly productive taxpayers. On the other hand, those without professional skills may end up on any number of state subsistence programs and even in the criminal justice system, committing more of the states' financial resources to corrections.

So the measure produces no tax relief for Arizonans, potentially raises taxes in the future, creates an unnecessary state bureaucracy, isn't applicable to federal immigration law, and won't keep the undocumented from crossing our border with Mexico. What exactly do Arizonans gain from approving Proposition 300?

The answer is nothing. The real winners if this initiative passes will be businesses that want compliant workers who won't complain about low wages, working conditions, an absence of health benefits and overtime pay. When democrats in the Arizona legislature floated a Bill that provided sanctions for businesses hiring the undocumented, the republican majority opposed the measure with tremendous vehemence. I suspect the indignant state senators co-sponsoring the original legislation that led to Proposition 300 blanch at the thought of creating a path to citizenship and prosperity for the undocumented.

There is one bright spot in Proposition 300 though. If passed, the law is to be enforced "without regard to race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or national origin." It's comforting to know that undocumented white people in Arizona will be denied this benefit as well.
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Larry Sakin is a former non-profit medical organization executive and music producer. His writing can be found on, Blogcritics, OpEd News, The People's Voice, Craig's List and The Progressive magazine. He also advocates for literacy and (more...)
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