Thursday, July 15, 2004

Border battles

Arizona's voters will be tested this fall on the question California voters already failed, namely, whether it will revert to bigotry instead of reason in dealing with problems associated with immigration.

As Tamar Jacoby recently observed in the Los Angeles Times, the problems certainly are real. And while government inertia reigns, standing pat should not be an option:
Ranchers on the border complain that bands of illegal migrants file across their lands, cutting fences, disturbing animals and leaving a sea of trash. Others -- liberals and conservatives alike -- feel that the Border Patrol is even more of a nuisance: the number of agents has skyrocketed, mostly to good effect, but they roam the region at will in their four-wheel drives, trampling grassland and interrogating motorists.

Healthcare providers face mounting costs. Crossing the Sonoran desert is a dangerous business; 105 migrants have died of exposure this year alone and many others end up in local hospitals. In Phoenix, immigrant smugglers warehouse their clients in filthy stash houses, then fight over them in gun battles that endanger local residents. No wonder Arizonans are clamoring for a solution -- any solution.

So now we get the "Protect Arizona Now" initiative touted by the fine bigots at Federation for American Immigration Reform and their hate-group cohorts at VDare, which not only would deny state services to illegal immigrants, it would prosecute any state employee who failed to report illegals applying for services.

Fortunately, Arizona's Republicans have learned their lesson from the California debacle -- where Latino support for the GOP vanished after the party supported the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 -- and are staying away from the PAN initiative like the festering carbuncle it is. And even though the initiative seems to enjoy broad support, there likely is time to bring reason to bear on the electorate.

It will all depend on how smart PAN's opponents are. As Jacoby observes:
California's Proposition 187 debacle holds several lessons for PAN's opponents. The biggest mistake then was the failure to create a broad-based, bipartisan coalition to denounce what could easily have been characterized as an extremist measure. Instead, it was the opposition that appeared extremist: all Mexican flags and protest rallies. Arizonans needn't repeat that blunder. After all, the business community, the political establishment, unions, immigrant advocates, Latino leaders and the state's active religious left all share reservations about the measure.

It will be crucial, in the end, for Republicans to step up to the plate on this measure and help knock it down. Otherwise, all that talk about attracting Latino voters will fit the rest of the "compassionate conservative" profile as we've seen it so far -- all talk and no hat.
UPDATE: Jeff Smith of the Tucson Citizen has more.

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