Posted on November 16, 2004

Prop. 200 Foes Leave Latinos Living In Fear

Frank J. Conti Jr., Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Nov. 16

So Proposition 200 has passed in Arizona, by a wide majority, and the sky has not yet fallen.

Because the drafters of Proposition 200 neglected to define a “public benefit,” the state Supreme Court will eventually be charged with divining the intent of the people. Of course this can only mean that a new definition will be coming to a ballot near you on the first Tuesday of November 2006.

Whether Randy Pullen’s expansive definition of public benefit or Kathy McKee’s narrower one prevails is only part of a broader problem. More than any other election in recent memory, the passage of Proposition 200 demonstrates clearly that ideas have consequences. But in the aftermath of election 2004 it’s not the proponents’ ideas that are the source of apprehension.

During the campaign, opponents of Proposition 200 ran TV ads designed to scare voters into rejecting the measure. One such ad featured firefighters looking into the camera and forthrightly insisting that they didn’t have time to check IDs before putting out burning buildings.

The ads were brutally effective and succeeded in scaring people. Not voters, but our less-than-documented, long-term visitors from Mexico, many of whom are now terrified to step outside their houses to attend court appearances or to pick up the phone and call police in the event of domestic violence.

Demagoguery comes with a high price tag. Someone needs to step forward and tell that fireman — and Grant Woods and Company — that a public service like police and fire protection does not become a public benefit just because someone says so in a TV ad. While we’re at it, someone needs to tell the poor Hispanic people who are now afraid to dwell among us.

The truth is, no reasonable person employing a modicum of common sense could possibly equate a public service — libraries, police and fire protection, garbage removal — with a public benefit like welfare, which entails the direct handing over of money from the government to the individual. Now this distinction, clear as it is, might be too fine for an undocumented immigrant who speaks no English. But the opponents of Proposition 200 should have known better than to use a firefighter — the very embodiment of public service — as a front man/boogieman to distort the truth of Proposition 200’s meaning.

The nature of the measure was racially divisive in that it was aimed specifically at illegal guests from our neighbor south of the border. Proponents focused rightly on illegal immigration’s enormous costs to the taxpayer, and won a smashing victory that might ultimately prove ineffective without federal attention to the problem. In any event, the opposition’s tactics were nothing short of abominable, and the culture of fear that they’ve created should make us all a little queasy.

Free political speech is perhaps the most treasured gift in all the bounty of our American heritage. The imperative to use it wisely has never been more starkly apparent.

In the final analysis it can be said that the opponents of Proposition 200 were prophets of the self-fulfilling type. Their factually unsupportable message of hysteria succeeded in bringing about a result only dreamed of by the most nefarious of Proposition 200’s supporters.

They can scarcely be surprised that the seeds of ignorance and deceit, cast about indiscriminately on the airwaves, have borne a harvest of fear and division.