Groups file challenge to Christensen petition on immigration

The ACLU of Nevada and a local business coalition filed legal challenges Friday against an initiative to create an Arizona-type law cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the initiative, launched this year by Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas, say it violates the state’s single-subject rule, promotes racial profiling and would hurt an already stressed economy.

“Not only does the intent of the proposal blatantly violate America’s most fundamental values of fairness and equality, the expansive scope of it intentionally confuses voters,” said Maggie McLetchie, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

But Christensen, who this month lost a bid for U.S. Senate, called the lawsuits “bogus” and said his initiative petition is simple and provides protections against racial profiling.

“It deals with one topic: citizenship,” he said Friday. “Everything is related to being a citizen of Nevada and a citizen of the U.S.”

Volunteers have already gathered thousands of signatures, and Christensen said he will collect the required 97,002 signatures by a Nov. 9 deadline to have the “Nevada Immigration Verification” initiative considered during the 2011 legislative session.

“We’ll hit our mark for sure,” he said.

The initiative mirrors a controversial Arizona law set to take effect in late July that makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.

That law, passed in April, inspired boycotts of Arizona. Supporters said it was necessary to protect Arizonans from crimes committed by illegal immigrants and fill a void left by a federal government that has failed to enforce immigration laws.

In addition to requiring noncitizens to carry proof they are in the United States legally, the initiative would allow legal residents to sue if they feel a government agency adopts a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws. It also would prohibit illegal immigrants from applying for a job, make it illegal to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, and require voters to present IDs at the polls — a provision opponents say would disenfranchise voters.

“It imposes a whole new host of responsibilities on law enforcement without any way to pay for it,” McLetchie said.

Nevada can’t afford the economic impact of such a law, said Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who is part of the “Nevada Open for Business Coalition” that filed its lawsuit in District Court in Carson City.

Christensen dismissed critics of the initiative.

“Every time I debunk one of their bogus complaints they come up with something new,” he said.

The law would save the state money in “medication, education and incarceration” costs for illegal immigrants, he said.

“What these people are saying is there’s going to be an economic impact, so we should just ignore the law,” Christensen said.

The initiative includes language stating that “race, color or national origin” cannot be used in determining “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the country illegally.

McLetchie said the 33-page initiative is “designed so voters won’t know what they’re voting on.”

“It’s extremely broad,” she said. “It’s impossible to know.”

If the initiative makes it to the 2011 legislative session and state lawmakers don’t act upon it or reject it, the petition would be placed on the 2012 ballot.

The lawsuits seek an injunction prohibiting the initiative from going to the Legislature or being placed on the ballot.

The ACLU filed its lawsuit on behalf of a ballot-advocacy group called “What Happens in Arizona Stops in Arizona,” which includes the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Robert Johnson, president of Gun Owners of Nevada.

Speaking at a Latin Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said Christensen’s initiative was “ill-conceived” and promotes fear and hatred.

“We do not need this type of wedge issue to further divide our community,” he said.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at