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Opinion: Scaring up votes in Arizona

The governor of Arizona is painting every illegal immigrant as a drug mule for dangerous Mexican cartels.

Arizona immigration law, Mexican immigrants
Undocumented Mexican immigrants wait to be deported from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement center on April 28, 2010, in Phoenix. (John Moore/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has figured out at least this much: Mexican drug dealers are, to average folks, much scarier than Mexican dishwashers.

So Brewer, who is running for election, has decided to make one the face of the other — all Mexicans being interchangeable, after all.

And so now, oddly enough, the immigration debate’s Willie Horton is a Mexican drug dealer.

The scare tactics started in April at the ceremony where Brewer signed into law Arizona Senate Bill 1070, a divisive and dishonest piece of legislation that turns local police into posses that go around hunting illegal immigrants based on “reasonable suspicion.” It promotes a form of state vigilantism where people decide that law enforcement isn’t doing its job and so they must take matters into their own hands. 

In signing the bill, Brewer talked about “border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration” and said Arizonans “cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels” or “stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life.” Nor could they, she said, “delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north.”

I know. Speechifying like that makes you want to grab your Winchester.

Later, Brewer doubled down on the drug demagoguery — The Mexican Connection, if you will — during a debate between Republican gubernatorial candidates. She claimed that most illegal immigrants act as drug mules for Mexican cartels. When a reporter asked her to provide the basis of the claim, she really went for broke.

"We all know that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules,” Brewer told the reporter. “They're coming across our borders in huge numbers. The drug cartels have taken control of the immigration... They're breaking the law when they are trespassing and they're criminals when they pack the marijuana and the drugs on their backs.”

When pressed, Brewer acknowledged that many illegal immigrants do come to the United States to look for work but insisted that eventually they “are accosted and they become subjects of the drug cartels.”

Quick. Someone take that shovel out of her hands before she digs herself in any deeper.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Brewer is wrong about the drug comments and that he doesn’t believe most illegal immigrants moonlight as drug mules for the cartels.

Ditto for T.J. Bonner, head of the National Border Patrol Council. That is the labor union representing nearly 20,000 border patrol agents, which you’d think would know a thing or two about who is coming across the border and what they’re bringing with them. Bonner told CNN that Brewer's claims are “clearly not the case” and “don't comport with reality.”