Jumping on a hot election-year issue, U.S. Senate candidate Chad Christensen on Thursday launched a ballot initiative that would impose an Arizona-like law in Nevada, giving authorities the right to question and arrest possible illegal immigrants in certain cases.
Christensen, a Las Vegas assemblyman, said he is working on a draft of his Nevada Immigration Reform Referendum and would start gathering signatures immediately, although he is not sure whether he'll be able to meet a deadline to get the initiative on the November ballot.
Christensen, a Republican, said he decided to take the question to the voters after GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons, who is in a tough re-election race, refused the lawmaker's request to call a special session of the Legislature to pass a law cracking down on illegal immigrants in Nevada. Gibbons said he doesn't see a need for such a law in the state, which, unlike Arizona, is not on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"It's time for the people of Nevada to stand together and let our voices be heard," Christensen said. "Illegal immigration is costing the taxpayers in Nevada $700 million a year."
He said the goal is to collect 97,002 signatures from registered voters, which would place the referendum on the ballot in November or in the next election if he can't make the deadline.
"This is not an issue that can wait," said Christensen, who, like other Republicans in the race, accuses the federal government of not doing its job of securing U.S. borders. "With the passage of the Arizona bill, we anticipate an even greater illegal population will be moving to Nevada."
Christensen's proposal comes two weeks before early voting begins for the June 8 primary in which he is running in the middle of the pack of a dozen Republicans hoping to win the nomination to face U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic incumbent.
Former state Sen. Sue Lowden is the GOP front-runner, followed by real estate developer Danny Tarkanian, former Reno Assemblywoman Sharron Angle and investment banker John Chachas, an Ely native who is considered a long shot like Christensen.
The new law in Arizona, which has faced rising crime because of illegal immigrant drug gangs involved in the cross-border trade of narcotics, was amended after it faced criticism that it amounted to racial profiling. The changes were meant to prevent random questioning, which could violate a person's civil rights. Instead, law enforcement must have already stopped a suspect for another suspicious activity before being allowed to question them about their legal status.
The proposed Nevada initiative also includes some of the same safeguards.
As proposed, Christensen said his referendum would do the following:
■ Direct law enforcement authorities during a lawful stop or after an arrest to determine the immigration status of people they "reasonably suspect to be illegal aliens."
■ Prohibit state officials and agencies from imposing bans or restrictions on sending, receiving or maintaining information related to a person's immigration status or exchanging it with any other federal, state or local governmental entity for the purposes of determining eligibility.
■ Allow legal residents to sue if they feel a government agency adopts a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
■ Prohibit people who are hiring and picking up day laborers, and day laborers soliciting work from impeding traffic.
■ Prohibit illegal immigrants without work authorization from applying for a job, soliciting employment in a public place or performing work in the state.
■ Make it illegal to transport, harbor or encourage illegal immigrants to stay in the United States if a driver knows or "recklessly disregards" the fact that they are not in the country legally. The law would exempt child care providers and first responders.
■ Authorize impoundment or forfeiture of vehicles driven by illegal immigrants or used to transport them.
■ Prohibit an employer from knowingly employing an unauthorized immigrant.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.