Following in the footsteps of Arizona voters, two Arkansas state senators have introduced legislation to deny some state benefits to illegal aliens and require proof of citizenship to vote – a move denounced by their fellow Republican governor as “race-baiting and demagoguery.”

The Arkansas Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act is similar to Proposition 200, which Arizona passed in November. The Arizona measure survived court challenges and went into effect last week.

GOP Sens. Jim Holt and Denny Altes sponsored the bill, which was introduced last Wednesday.

One of the first to denounce the move was fellow Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee. The governor described the bill as “inflammatory … race-baiting and demagoguery.” He said it is also “anti-life” because, he says, it would deny pre-natal benefits to illegal-alien mothers and therefore harm their newborns, who would be American citizens. The bill, Hackabee said, “inflames those who are racist and bigots and makes them think there’s a real problem. But there’s not.”

A Baptist minister, Huckabee singled out Holt, also a Christian. Said the governor: “I drink a different kind of Jesus juice.”

Next to slam the new bill was the head of the nation’s largest Hispanic organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The group’s president, Hector Flores, told reporters Senate Bill 206 was an “anti-immigrant” and “misguided” measure. “We’re always going to be opposed to any legislation that unfairly targets immigrants,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette quotes him as saying. “It doesn’t set the right tone for Arkansas.”

Said Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey: “This is the wrong bill at the wrong time, and we need to stop it immediately.

“This is the wrong way to go. It singles out a particular group. It’s based on emotion and on a misunderstanding.”

Altes disagreed.

“This does not single anyone out except for those who are doing illegal things,” the senator is quoted as saying. “It’s a fairness issue.”

Holt told the Arkansas paper the proposal is about justice, not discrimination.

“You don’t want to seem like you hate anyone, but what it is is a matter of justice,” he said. “People that are citizens don’t like it if they can’t receive benefits that illegals get.”

Nearly 100,000 Hispanics live in Arkansas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Democrat-Gazette reports that from 1990 to 2000, Arkansas’ Hispanic population nearly doubled to 86,866. That is believed to be the fastest growth in the country.

Besides requiring proof of citizenship to vote, the bill would require state employees to report suspected immigration violations or face possible misdemeanor prosecution.

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