At a press conference in the beginning of this endeavor a reporter asked me if I thought our Director could get the support to get the job done. I told him that there would be no problem except for the time element. That proved to be truer than even I realized.
Collecting signatures for this petition was a breeze after we learned where to find large groups of people. (Getting people to collect the signatures in the heat of summer and vacation time was a different story). There is no issue with which I have been involved in the last 20 years where so many people were in agreement about a problem.
I think 90% of the registered voters opted to sign it. Most of the people wanted to sign it before we finished our first sentence. Many of them would get that gleam of satisfaction in their eyes and ask how many times they could sign. Many went back and brought spouses or families to come and sign the petition. Others asked for petitions to take to work to get signed. (If anyone doubts this 90% figure, KAIT TV did a poll and found that 96 percent of the people would vote to deny government benefits to illegal immigrants). See this link for that information: http://www.kait8.com/Global/category.asp?C=4389#poll72649
At the state revenue office in Jonesboro, which represents people from every social and financial stratum, we found that one person can get 30 signatures an hour any working day of the week. Two workers can get as many as 50 to 60 an hour or 400 to 500 on busy days. But we did not think about collecting signatures there until about two weeks ago. We collected three times the number of signatures needed in Craighead County to pass the initiative, and three of our Democratic legislators in Craighead signed the petition.
Some of our politicians claim illegal aliens are not receiving benefits. However, in gathering signatures for this petition, workers at grocery stores told us they get food stamps and qualify for the WIC program (WIC is a program by the Department of Public Health that provides food checks to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under age five).
Workers at a Medicaid office said a huge number of them get Medicaid. A pharmacist told us that he knows without a doubt that many of them get free prescriptions. The people who gave us this information said all these illegal aliens had nothing but a Mexican I.D. to get these benefits. In fact, the people who worked in these state offices that oversee state benefits were the angriest about the situation because they see every day the injustice of it all. Many of them have offered their anonymous help to prove that these illegal immigrants are getting benefits. That will be of great value to us.
One lady said at a large hospital in Little Rock where her son was undergoing several surgeries (for which they paid out of their pockets) that there would always be a number of foreign-born people waiting there. She said a woman would come out and talk to them in Spanish, and they received health benefits.
All these people would certainly disagree with our Governor Mike Beebe who said we did not need any more laws in Arkansas. (Beebe said he opposes the initiative; saying it would only duplicate state and federal laws; but he didn't tell the people that almost any benefit (welfare, health unemployment benefits, food and housing assistance, loans, licenses etc.) forbidden to aliens by the federal government can be given to them by the state - if the state just passes a law to do so. And there are many so called "compassionate" liberals in Arkansas just waiting to do that. (8-USC-Section 1621)
If anyone doubts that last assertion, consider the resolution that not 1% of the citizens in Arkansas know was passed by the Senate in 2005, SCR 9, that was delivered to Congress and the president of the United States to encourage them "To Create An Expedited Naturalization Process for Undocumented Minors.
Following are a couple of quotes from this Resolution: "Whereas, immigrants can stabilize shrinking populations, facilitate economic growth, revitalize neighborhoods, replenish work forces, and increase property values; and …immigration can be the key to a state's city's, or town's growth and prosperity." That philosophy would undoubtedly lead to attempts to pass laws that would be diametrically opposed to the opinion of the vast majority of people whom I encountered in collecting signatures. ftp://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/bills/2005/public/SCR9.pdf
We canvassers got an education and found that we weren't aware of even half of the problems with this issue.
*Veterans who have fought in Iraq said they were turned down for aid at the same time they saw foreigners here illegally receiving benefits.
*Applicants for aid and workers in the offices complained that one standard was used when citizens applied for benefits, and another standard was used for illegal aliens.
*A Spanish interpreter for a court in Arkansas told us there are far more crimes that go through the courts than anyone is aware of. Not only do the illegal aliens cost the taxpayers for prosecution, but taxpayers also pay for interpreters for the illegal alien criminals; for the translation of all documents related to the case into Spanish for them; and for ALL of them to receive a court appointed attorney at taxpayers' expense. [Don't we citizens have to hire our own attorneys?] A $50,000 budget is allowed for the interpreters for illegal alien criminals alone which does not include any of the other expenses.
*The owner of a brick company and an owner of a construction company in Jonesboro said they had to close up shop because they had to follow regulations, provide workmen's compensation and other things that illegal aliens did not do, allowing Hispanics to work for so much less.
*Construction workers told us how many jobs they were taking from them; people who are earning meager living mowing lawns said they were having a hard time getting jobs now.
*One construction worker said he hadn't had a roofing job in over a year because illegal aliens had taken over those jobs.
*One person in a factory said they were told that supervisors in the near future would have to speak Spanish, which would eliminate many citizens from those supervisory jobs, allowing Hispanics to be promoted to those jobs instead.
*A person in the fire department said some of the firemen were going to have to learn Spanish because they could not communicate with the Hispanics in a crisis because they spoke no English.
*Some people complained that many Hispanics had moved into their neighborhood with 20 people or more living in one house, and they were buying up the whole neighborhood, causing devaluation of neighboring homes.
*Workers in the revenue office said Hispanics often come in and register two and three vehicles, much nicer than they, the citizens themselves, own. These workers think the Hispanics take the cars back to Mexico and sell them before the year is up. That way the illegal aliens don't have to pay any property tax on them.Defeat or Victory?
I do not think our efforts were in vain. We learned a great deal that we can use in the battle over this issue, we stirred up a great deal of discussion, learned how to prove illegal aliens ARE getting benefits, learned where to get the signatures for the next time, learned that far more people were with us than we thought; and we formed coalitions and unified our efforts. I would do it all over again next year - unless our legislature follows the pattern of those states around us and passes legislation so we don't have to.