10-24-2016  11:23 am      •     
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OLYMPIA—A group has filed an initiative to deny illegal immigrants public benefits, like free prenatal care for poor women or subsidized child care for seasonal workers.

Protect Washington Now, headed by Mercer Island resident Bob Baker, needs to collect nearly 225,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 for the measure to make the November ballot.

It would require state employees to verify the immigration status of anyone seeking benefits not mandated by federal law, such as emergency medical care, and to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

The state has an estimated 136,000 illegal immigrants, though officials say they don't know how many use the handful of programs administered by the Department of Social and Health Services.

Like other needy families, illegal immigrants may qualify for help under at least seven programs administered by the state Department of Social and Health Services. In most cases, families must meet federal poverty guidelines to qualify.

The programs include short-term child-care services for homeless families as they try to find employment, and money for pregnant women and families with children for emergency food, shelter, clothing and medical care.

But Baker, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, said any use of the programs by illegal immigrants is an inappropriate use of his tax dollars.

"They come here and have their babies born at one of our hospitals at our expense; they have it all," he said.

The measure is patterned after one passed by Arizona voters in 2004 that denied public benefits to illegal immigrants and forced residents to prove their citizenship to vote.

Under Baker's measure, employees and their supervisors would face misdemeanor charges for refusing to report violations. The measure also would allow anyone to sue state agencies for refusing to enforce the law.

Immigrant advocates say such a measure would spread fear in immigrant communities, making people reluctant to contact authorities or seek emergency help when they need it.

"They're proposing to deputize social service providers as immigration agents and hold them accountable for service the state provides, when it will be a rare case that an undocumented person will be provided such a service," said Michael Ramos, co-chair of From Hate to Hope, a coalition of 40 local groups formed to campaign against the measure.

— The Associated Press

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