The Orange County-based group that co-sponsored Proposition 187 has fanned the flames of controversy again by unveiling a billboard this week near the Arizona border welcoming visitors to "California, The Illegal Immigrant State."
The billboard, which went up Monday along Interstate 10 near Blythe, Calif., is the latest tactic of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform in the emotional debate over immigration. The 1994 state ballot measure, approved by an overwhelming majority but largely declared unconstitutional by a federal judge, sought to ban illegal immigrants from public education and most government social services.
Coalition President Barbara Coe said the billboard is meant as a warning to other states about "the devastation that has occurred in California because of illegal immigration and bilingual education."
Several Latino leaders quickly expressed outrage over the billboard, which reads: "Welcome to California, The Illegal Immigrant State. Don't let this happen to your state."
Santa Ana attorney Jess Araujo said it is "outrageous and grandstanding at its worse. They are exploiting a very complicated issue for self-serving needs."
The billboard "shows deep-rooted hate and anti-immigrant feelings aimed at Latinos," said Roberto Martinez, executive director of the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that supports immigrant rights.
Coe denies that the billboard's message and the campaign for Proposition 187 were designed as attacks on Latino immigrants.
"You don't see 'Mexican,' 'Hispanic' or 'Latino' on the billboard or 187," Coe said. "We're blanketing illegal aliens in general. The billboard is there [Blythe] because the southern border is the gateway for illegal immigration."
Coe said the sign will remain up for one year, and the group has plans to erect similar billboards on Interstate 5, between Orange County and San Diego and between Los Angeles and San Francisco, before year's end.