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ACLU, NAACP join group’s effort to block immigration petition

Updated Friday, June 18, 2010 | 3:33 p.m.

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Chad Christensen speaks during a debate among the Republican U.S. Senate candidates on "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" at the KVBC studios in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 18, 2010.

CARSON CITY – A business group, a Las Vegas gun activist, the NAACP and the ACLU of Nevada have filed suits to block a state assemblyman's initiative petition that mimics the controversial anti-immigration law in Arizona.

They are asking Carson City District Judge James Wilson to declare the Nevada Immigration Verification petition invalid and to prevent it from being presented to the 2011 Legislature.

A group called “The Nevada Open for Business Coalition” brought the first suit asking for declaratory and injunctive relief.

It was followed by legal action from the ACLU of Nevada and on behalf of the NAACP of Nevada and Robert Johnson, president of Gun Owners of Nevada. That group is called “What Happens in Arizona Stops in Arizona.”

The suit by the business coalition says the petition is an “election year mashup of an Arizona anti-immigration measure that has cost that state $100 million in lost revenue." It will cost that state even more in boycotts, canceled meetings and conventions, the suit says, adding that it could happen to Nevada if the petition were to become law.

Assemblyman Chad Christensen, who was unsuccessful in his run for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, is leading the petition drive and couldn't be reached for comment.

Both suits say the anti-immigration petition is invalid because it contains several subjects, ranging from voting laws to illegal immigration arrests to setting up task forces. The business coalition says Christiansen and his backers “rolled up everything they could think of into an anti-immigration fantasy they could muster and stuffed it into this measure.”

The suit says the petition violates the single subject rule and the subjects in the petition are not directly tied to the enforcement of immigration laws.

Johnson, the gun activist, wrote in a statement, "We don’t want to ruin Nevada’s reputation as a welcoming tourist destination by passing an extreme law that would essentially turn Nevada into a police state and mandate racial profiling. And worse still, the proposed initiative is so long, complicated and confusing, it fails to inform signers and voters of what it really involves – the erosion of our freedoms from many fronts."

Maggie McLetchie, a lawyer for the ACLU, said adoption of the initiative “would result in state-sanctioned discrimination and racial profiling.” And the petition is confusing, she said in filing the suit.

The business coalition suit was filed by Las Vegas attorney Edward Garcia.

Members of the business coalition include Democratic Assemblymen Moises Denis and Ruben Kihuen, both of Las Vegas, and Latin Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Otto Merida, as well as Larry Mason.

Christensen has until Nov. 9 to gather 97,002 signatures of registered voters. If he is successful, the issue would go before the 2011 Legislature, which would have 40 days to act. If it rejects the 32-page petition or doesn’t act on it, the issue would go on the 2012 ballot for voters to decide.

The Legislature could also present an alternative measure to go on the ballot.

Christensen must gather 24,944 signatures in congressional District 1 in Clark County; 34,479 in District 2 in Northern Nevada and 37,561 signatures in District 3 in Clark County.

Frank Hawkins Jr., president of the NAACP in Las Vegas, said “African-Americans know all too well the insidious effects of racial profiling and voter disfranchisement. Laws that encourage discrimination have no place on the ballot, in Arizona, Nevada or anywhere.”

The ACLU suit says the initiative petition is flawed because it requires increased spending by local law enforcement without providing the revenue to cover these expenses. It says the petition “is deceptive and would intentionally confuse voters and therefore should not be circulated for signatures.”

The proposed law would allow a peace officer or officer of the Drug Enforcement Administration designated by the U.S. Attorney General to make an arrest without a warrant when a person is believed to be in the country illegally.

The petition says a state or local law enforcement official may determine the immigration status if he or she has “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally.

An individual who is arrested is not eligible for suspension of a sentence, probation, pardon or commutation of the sentence and is required to pay his or her jail costs, the petition states.

Anyone who hires an illegal immigrant now can be charged with a misdemeanor, with a fine of at least $1,000 for illegally moving, concealing or harboring illegal immigrants. The person's vehicle can also be impounded. The petition would make it a felony to conceal or move 10 or more illegal immigrants.

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