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Case Study: Taking the Initiative – California and Beyond

In California, Tea Parties have reacted to passage of A.B. 131, that state’s version of the DREAM Act, which was signed by Governor Brown in 2011.

In one case, an attempt to un-do A.B. 131 via initiative referendum failed to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot. This failed initiative was filed by Minuteman turned Tea Partier, Tim Donnelly, a California Assemblyman from Twin Peaks who was elected from the 59th District in November 2010. Donnelly has argued that: “The facts are incontrovertible that allowing an illegal invasion of the United States will destroy the American Southwest, and very probably wipe out the freedoms we American Christians enjoy, as Muslim Extremists blend in with the so-called ‘innocent’ illegal aliens, and eventually proselytize them. It is not a stretch to picture a revolt in Los Angeles, whose population is comprised of over 50 percent illegal aliens. At the rate of influx and births, it will be 80 percent illegal alien within a decade. … None of this bodes well for the citizens who live in Southern California now, nor will it improve the life of the poor alien, but it is well on its way to wiping out everything that was once good in Southern California.”[81]

Trying to collecting signatures for this repeal initiative were dozens of local Tea Party groups, like the So Cal Patriots (another group made up of many former Minutemen). Tony Dolz, a member of the Ventura County Tea Party Alliance and the Tea Party Patriots and a former Minuteman, was one of the lead organizers in this effort.
When the initiative failed to gather enough signatures, Donnelly noted: “504,760 valid signatures were needed to qualify the referendum for the November 2012 ballot. Although we put in a herculean effort the count as of late last night was 447,514 signatures, which precludes us from submitting the signatures today to the registrar of voters at each of the 58 counties.”[82]

A second measure, the “California Taxpayer Protection Act of 2012” was filed on October 17. This initiative intends to challenge the birthright citizenship provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, and its measures are potentially so punitive that they bear spelling out. It would have the state deny birth certificates to children born to undocumented parents, unless the mother provides her fingerprint and other information, which would then be forwarded to federal authorities. It would require applicants for state, local, and state-administered federal aid to verify lawful presence in the United States. Additionally, applications for public benefits submitted by undocumented parents on behalf of their lawful-resident children would also be sent to federal authorities. It would also eliminate those benefits for children that are not mandated by federal law in the CalWORKS program, which provides temporary financial assistance and other services to qualifying families with minor children.

This measure is also aimed at un-doing A.B. 131, California’s version of the DREAM Act.[83] The Taxpayer Act would prohibit undocumented immigrant students from receiving financial aid or in-state tuition rates. On December 27, 2011, a ballot title and summary were issued for this initiative, and sponsors now have until May 29, 2012 to collect 807,615 signatures to qualify it for the November 2012 ballot.[84]

It is significant that the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a Nativist Establishment organization led by Barbara Coe, a member of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, tried previously but failed to get a similar initiative on the ballot. The Tea Partiers, on the other hand, put the measure up and will now collect names.

California is the first state where ballot measures are aimed at repealing its DREAM Act, but Tea Partiers in other states have joined the effort against state-level DREAM Act legislation. In Maryland, Tea Party groups helped lead a successful campaign to delay a law that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to attend college.[85] After the Maryland legislature passed the DREAM Act in April 2011, Tea Party activists collected enough signatures to stop implementation of the law and to put it up to a vote. The referendum to repeal the Maryland version of the DREAM Act will be on the November 2012 ballot. In Illinois, they tried, but failed to block similar legislation.[86] Kansas and several other states can expect attacks again in 2012.

In Arkansas, a ballot measure similar to the California “Taxpayer Protection” initiative may appear on the November 2012 ballot due to the efforts of Tea Party group Secure Arkansas.[87] It too aims to ban benefits to undocumented immigrants.

Tea Party groups in several other states are pushing their legislatures to pass similar bills. And Tea Party groups around the country have been drumming up support for HR 140 – the federal bill to eliminate birthright citizenship for children born to undocumented immigrants. Though the Constitutionality of these bills is dubious, they do serve as a rallying point for Tea Party activism.

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Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

Author Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind

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