California tea party begins push for Arizona-style immigration measure

The California Secretary of State's office Tuesday authorized a signature drive to place an Arizona-style immigration law before California voters.

Called the "Support Federal Immigration Law Act," the proposal was submitted to state authorities in September by Michael Erickson, a Tea Party activist in in the Bay Area city of Belmont and former chair of the Sonoma County Republican Party.

Erickson, speaking at a videotaped rally on his initiative's website, said he worked with a legal team to draft a version of Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, which requires that police investigate a person's legal status if an office has reasonable suspicion of that status.

"Since we're never going to get something like this passed through the Democrat-controlled Legislature, it's going to be we the people who are going to make it happen," Erickson said at the rally.

Erickson told the Bee Tuesday that he's tried to draft his proposal -- which also makes it a state crime to hire illegal immigrants -- to avoid constitutional pitfalls. The Arizona law now faces challenges that it is unconstitutional and an overreaching of state law into federal responsibility for immigration enforcement.

Initiative supporters must gather at least 433,971 signatures of registered voters by April 21, 2011, to qualify for an election. Erickson said he'd aim to put the measure before voters during the 2012 election cycle.

The effort will rely largely on volunteers from California's Tea Party network, Erickson said.

The California proposal would make it a state crime for undocumented persons to seek work while hiding their immigration status, and a state crime for employers to "intentionally or negligently" hire an illegal immigrant.

The measure would also require all highway patrol, police, sheriff's deputies and other officers to investigate a person's immigration status if they are "reasonably suspicious" that a person who they stopped is in the country illegally.

The difference with Arizona's law, Erickson said, is that officers would have to contact federal immigration authorities and conduct such a check within a "timely manner" and could not hold a person for a long period of time.

Like the Arizona law, the proposal would also seek to allow legal residents to sue officials or agencies if they refuse to carry out this type of immigration enforcement.

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