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Originally published August 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 26, 2008 at 12:46 AM

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Immigration initiative seeks state crackdown

Under a proposed initiative, illegal immigrants in Washington would be prohibited from getting state driver's licenses and denied public benefits, and employers — both public and private — would be required to verify that new hires can legally work in the U.S.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Under a proposed initiative, illegal immigrants in Washington would be prohibited from getting state driver's licenses and denied public benefits, and employers — both public and private — would be required to verify that new hires can legally work in the U.S.

Supporters of Initiative 409 are trying to collect 224,880 signatures by December to force the Legislature to either act on their proposal or place it before voters in the next general election.

The initiative is patterned after a series of measures approved by Arizona voters in recent years to make that border state an unpleasant place for illegal immigrants. Local proponents, who are now attending fairs and festivals hoping to collect signatures, acknowledge that theirs is a more difficult battle in a largely liberal state that has been reluctant to touch such measures.

"Right now, each state more or less decides whether they'll abide by federal law," said Hal Washburn, of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, one of the initiative backers and a civilian group that monitors the borders.

"The federal government is letting employers slide," he said. "We'd like to see our laws enforced, and we'd like to get the Legislature on record as to where they stand on these issues."

Dianne Aid, an immigrant advocate with St. Matthew's Church in Auburn, said she was approached at the recent Kent Cornucopia Days festival by a signature collector.

Initiative backers are waging a campaign of misinformation to scare people, she said, pointing out that rules exist to prevent illegal immigrants from benefiting from public assistance.

But those backers cite a state auditor's report that shows illegal immigrants benefited from $103 million in health-care services in 2004.

Aid called the provisions of the initiative inhumane and impractical.

"If we are going to enact these oppressive acts against immigrants, then we need to take a deeper look at our responsibility in creating this immigration crisis," she said.

The Minuteman group has teamed up with two others opposed to illegal immigration: Washingtonians for Immigration Reform and Grassroots of Yakima Valley.

Under their initiative:

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• Applicants for a driver's license in the state would have to provide proof of citizenship.

• State agencies would be required to verify the lawful presence of anyone 14 or older seeking local, state or federal benefits they administer, not including emergency care.

• All state agencies, including law enforcement, would be required to cooperate with immigration authorities in enforcing immigration law. The measure would make Seattle and King County's sanctuary-city protections null and void.

• Employers would be required to use a federal program called E-Verify to ensure anyone they hire is legally able to work in this country. Those failing to comply with the law could lose their business licenses.

Currently, 885 employers in Washington state use E-Verify, more than triple the number doing so just a year ago, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"This is a big job, but we know there are people out there who would sign this," Washburn said. "It's a matter of having enough of us out there to do it."

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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