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December 22, 2014

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Immigration reform petition filed in Nevada

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Leila Navidi

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.

A conservative assemblyman and long-shot U.S. Senate hopeful filed an initiative petition Friday that would establish in Nevada tough new immigration laws similar to Arizona's and require photo identification to vote.

Republican Chad Christensen, who has supported restricting services to undocumented immigrants in past legislative sessions, said Nevada is "on the edge."

He estimated illegal immigrants cost the state more than $700 million a year in education, health care and incarceration expenses.

"As a state, we are on the edge, and these costs are increasing," he said during a news conference in Las Vegas, where the petition was filed with the secretary of state's office.

He's one of 12 Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate nomination in the June 8 primary, though he trails the front runners by a big margin. The winner will take on Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader who is seeking a fifth term in November.

Petition backers must collect 97,002 valid signatures by Nov. 9 to send the initiative to the 2011 Legislature. If lawmakers reject it or fail to act, it would be put to voters in 2012.

The Arizona law that has spurred protests and boycotts around the nation requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask them about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they're in the country illegally.

The law also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally or to impede traffic while hiring day laborers, regardless of the worker's immigration status. It would become a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work.

Changes were added to strengthen restrictions against using race or ethnicity as the basis for immigration questioning by police.

Some officials in Phoenix have estimated the city could lose $90 million in hotel and convention center business over the next five years because of backlash to the law.

Christensen said his initiative is not about race or politics. "This is an issue between Americans and non-Americans," he said.

Support for the Arizona law by Nevada Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval cost him an endorsement by the influential group Hispanics in Politics. Group president Fernando Romero called the law racist.

Besides toughening immigration enforcement, the Nevada initiative would also require photo identification to vote, something that has been rejected by state lawmakers in the past.

Ron Futrell, Christensen's campaign communication director, said the Nevada proposal mirrors Indiana's voter ID law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

"If there's no identification check along the way, you don't know if there's a problem or not" with voter fraud, Futrell said.

He called the proposal a "pre-emptive" move "to make sure people are here legally and have authorized ID in order to vote."

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