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New Ariz. Law Worries Immigrants

Immigrant parents have been flooding community leaders with calls and pulling their children out of Head Start this week after Arizona voters approved a ballot measure aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, Hispanic officials said.

Proposition 200 requires proof of citizenship when seeking public benefits or when registering to vote. Government employees are required to report suspected illegal immigrants seeking public benefits or else face jail time and fines.

Martin Delgado, a legal resident, said he fears for his wife who is here illegally. She is among the estimated 300,000 to 350,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona.

"She fears even to go out to walk because anyone can ask her for legal papers," said Delgado, 33. "She doesn't have any type of identification, and now it will be harder to go around."

Phoenix-area Head Start leaders said attendance dropped dramatically Wednesday as worried parents kept their children home from the federally funded preschool program. In one classroom, only two children showed up instead of the usual 20.

Rachael Schultz, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Human Services, which oversees Head Start centers, said Spanish-speaking teachers and staff members called parents to assure them their children are safe at school, and by Thursday, attendance returned to normal. Citizenship is not a requirement to be in the program.

Representatives of Latino groups said they are urging people not to panic.

"It's a very reasonable fear," Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said. His group is expected to seek a court order barring enforcement of the measure after the results are certified. Election officials have 30 days after the election to certify the results.

Similar fears sprouted in California a decade ago after it passed a similar measure, prompting many undocumented immigrants to keep their children away from school and doctor appointments.