Update on campaign to put anti-immigrant referendum on November 2006 Washington ballot

by Joana Ramos, Brazil 73-75

Last month I shared a news item about the efforts of Bob Baker of Mercer Island to gather signatures sufficient to put an initiative called “Protect Washington Now” ( PNW) before the voters in November state elections. Mr. Baker describes himself as a member of the Minutemen, an Arizona-based vigilante gourp that monitors border crossing activity and reports undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. The measure would require the state to deny benefits that are solely state-funded to undocumented immigrants residing here. Most of these are programs offered by the Dept. of Social and Health Services to the most vulnerable populations, including children ( primary health care; childcare while parents work) and pregnant women ( prenatal & maternity care; family planning). The proposed initiative has been very carefully worded to appear that it is only a sensible-spending measure, as it would only require that access to state-funded programs be cut off, but would not affect any federally-mandated services. By federal law, all children living in the US are entitled to K-12 public education and school meal programs; residents of all ages may receive first-responder services, immunizations, prevention & care of of communicable diseases, and emergency medical care.

Immigrant rights advocates perceive the measure as a skillfully veiled threat which could lead to discrimination and intimidation of all those who “appear”to be immigrants, even during life-threatening situations. Furthermore, many families have both citizen and noncitizen members. A 2004 report by the National Immigration Law Center ( /Facts About Immigrants)/ revealed that 85% of immigrant families with children are “mixed status families”, comprised of at least one noncitizen parent and at least one citizen child. Advocates across the country already report numerous cases of immigrant parents being either too afraid to seek services for which their children are eligilbe , or else wrongfully turned away from access. Mean-spirited legislation like that which Baker proposes could make matters worse, leading to both increased expenditures for the state and dire health consequences for individuals who might avoid both preventative and chronic health care until conditions become emergencies. The PWN measure, which was modeled after the successful Proposition 200 passed in Arizona in 2004, would undo the progress our state has just made in restoring at least primary care coverage for most of our noncitizen children.

Several dozen concerned community organizations including civic, anti-bias, faith-based, civil rights, unions. and healthcare provider groups have formed at network called From Hate to Hope to raise awareness about the the PNW campaign and strategize future action steps. For details , send an e-mail or call 206-726-1818.

Other local groups taking a leadership role in this effort are Hate Free Zone and the NW Federation of Community Organizations. I will be WSPCA’s contact person on this issue.