Senator's call to check citizenship of Hispanic voters draws fire
Fueled by a surge in the
By Mary Ellen Klas And Michael C. Bender
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, rekindled
the divisive debate over illegal immigration when he told
the Senate committee reviewing a series of congressional
redistricting plans that "before we design a district
anywhere in the state of
"We all know there are many
Hispanic-speaking people in
"He is calling on a witch hunt before a Hispanic district can be realistically considered,'' said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.
Cruz pointed out that Puerto Ricans are American citizens at birth.
While no one on the committee responded to Hays' comment on Tuesday, the remarks were published in an Orlando Sentinel blog, provoking outrage from the Hispanic caucus. Several members of the Republican-dominated group met late Wednesday and considered drafting a letter of complaint, said caucus chairman, Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami. Sen. Garcia said he asked Hays for an explanation and Cruz and Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami, demanded that Hays apologize or resign.
Rep. Garcia said Hays' comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of state law. "Either he is ignorant or prejudiced, neither of which are qualifications for him to serve on this committee,'' he said.
Said Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami: "I think
that it is unfortunate that anyone would question whether or
not Hispanic voters are American citizens,'' he said. "It is
basic Government 101 that in our country only
After criticism surfaced Thursday, Hays left a Senate budget hearing early and declined numerous requests for comment.
He told Sen. Garcia that he had called
the supervisor of elections office in his home district of
But Lake County Supervisor of Elections Emogene W. Stegall said that Hays is mistaken if he believes there is a problem with illegal residents registering to vote.
"We've never had a problem with illegal
She said that while the state stopped requiring proof of citizenship when it enacted the 1995 Motor Voter law that allows people to register to vote when they obtain a drivers license, requirements for obtaining a drivers license have increased. Drivers now must show three forms of identification to obtain a motor vehicle license and the license may serve as the sole form of ID to register to vote.
As head of the Hispanic Caucus, Sen. Garcia said he spoke to Hays who told him " he was willing to talk to any member of the Hispanic caucus and explain what he actually meant." Sen. Garcia said he "was comfortable with that."
But Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she found Hays' comments "irrelevant" to the redistricting process. She said it would be difficult for the Legislature to draw districts while considering illegal immigrants. The Census survey does not ask people to report citizenship and Census officials believe that even legal immigrants traditionally underreport their numbers.
"If we knew who they were and we could adjust for them in our districts, we would know who they were and we could report them to [federal immigration police] INS," Bogdanoff said.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Vierra, however, defended Hays. "I don't think he meant it in a way that was negative or demeaning or detrimental," Altman said. "I think he was trying to state the fact that if we are drawing districts and using large populations that have no legal rights to vote or no ability to vote then we are not really doing our job in drawing districts that are fair."
Staff writers Adam Smith and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed by HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com) without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.