PHOENIX — The two proposed referendum drives challenging Arizona's new sweeping law targeting illegal immigration are being abandoned, organizers said Monday. Andrew Chavez, a professional petition circulator involved in one of the efforts, said its backers pulled the plug after concluding they might not be able to time their petition filings in such a way as to put the law on hold pending a 2012 public vote.
Jon Garrido, the chief organizer of the other drive, attributed its end to a belief that the law would have been subject to legal protections under Arizona's Constitution if approved by Arizona voters.
The law takes effect July 29 unless implementation is blocked by court injunctions requested under at least three of the four pending legal challenges already filed by an Hispanic clergy group, police officers and other individuals.
Its provisions include requiring that police enforcing another law must question a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the United States illegally. It also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.
Critics have said the law will result in racial profiling of Hispanics. Supporters deny that and say the law will pressure illegal immigrants to leave the country on their own.
Chavez said his clients, whom he would not identify, launched the effort in the belief that they could put the law on hold until 2012 by not filing petition signatures until it was too late for state elections officials to place a referendum on the November ballot.
However, the backers decided over the weekend to end the referendum campaign when they concluded there still might be a November vote, not giving them enough time to be confident about being able to wage a successful campaign against the law, Chavez said.
The normal deadline for ballot questions is July 1, after which the printing of November ballots and other election preparations typically get under way. The Secretary of State's Office previously acknowledged that a down-to-the-wire referendum filing by this year's July 28 deadline might not give officials enough time to get it on the November ballot. However, the office also said it would depend on circumstances at the time.
Garrido, the chief organizer of the second referendum drive, said its backers abandoned it after getting legal advice that Arizona's constitutional protections for voter-approved ballot measures would have applied to the law if approved by voters.
Secretary of State's spokesman Matt Benson said Monday the office also believes that the constitutional limitations on possible legislative action would have applied to the law if voters approved it.
The constitutional provisions bar the Legislature from repealing a voter-approved law and only allow legislative changes that further the intent of the original law. Also, any changes must be approved by three-quarters votes of both the House and Senate.
The four legal challenges filed so far in U.S. District Court in Phoenix have been randomly assigned to different judges. Several major civil-rights groups are expected to file another challenge as early as this week.
No hearings have been set yet on the lawsuits, which likely will be consolidated into one case before a single judge. That judge would then set a schedule for consideration of the plaintiffs' requests for injunctions and rulings to strike down the law.