Border Crackdowns and the Battle for Arizona

A rancher's murder became the political catalyst for a tough new law aimed at illegal immigrants. But the state's controversial crackdown not only won't solve the border crisis — it may make it worse

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

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Goddard, a trim man whose father was governor of Arizona in the 1960s, has engaged in a long and somewhat wonky war against the cartels since he became attorney general in 2003. Before setting his sights on stored-value devices, he went after Western Union to stop the type of one-time payments made to human traffickers. Before that, he targeted the used-car dealerships that supplied vehicles for border runs. "We need to do this the same way we went after the Mafia," he said.

The Arizona legislature, with the persistent agitation of state senator Russell Pearce, whose police-officer son was shot and wounded by an illegal immigrant, has been ratcheting up legal pressure on undocumented residents for years. Pearce pressed for and won the Protect Arizona Now ballot initiative in 2004, which required proof of citizenship or legal residence from anyone registering to vote or applying to receive public benefits. In 2006 and 2008, the house passed variants of SB1070, bills that tasked local and state officials with responding to the immigration crisis, but then governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed both. Brewer, who was appointed governor after Napolitano was made head of the Department of Homeland Security, decided to sign SB1070 only after careful thought and prayer.

It must have helped that the measure was broadly popular. While other border governors, including Texas Republican Rick Perry, have raised concerns about SB1070, Arizona politics seems to encourage a race to the right on immigration. That's partly due to the ineffectiveness of the Hispanic voting bloc in the state. Latinos make up nearly 30% of the population but only 12% of voters. The two most heavily Hispanic districts in the state, said Goddard, have among the lowest voter turnout of any districts in the country. Daniel Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer who heads the board of directors of the National Council of La Raza, said the Latino community does "have to take some personal responsibility for this." But, he added, "this is a creation of Republican politics."

At a $16-a-plate lasagna fundraiser held by the Arizona Federation of Republican Women at the Briarwood Country Club outside Phoenix, GOP candidates for this November's gubernatorial election lined up to explain how they would crack down. Brian Munger said his problem with Brewer was that she took too long to sign SB1070. "She should have signed it weeks ago," he said. "Frankly, she lacks leadership." In the days after she signed the bill, however, Brewer saw her poll numbers rise among Republican voters.

The true star of the lunch was former Congressman and current radio talk-show host J.D. Hayworth, who is presenting a staunch conservative challenge to Senator John McCain's re-election bid. A former sportscaster with a lustrous tan and sternly knitted brow, he has come within striking distance of McCain largely on the strength of his harder-than-thou approach to immigration: get rid of all illegals, and don't even bring in guest workers until the border is 100% secured. "This is not a political problem to be managed," he told me. "It's a huge invasion that has to be stopped." Hayworth implied that the loose border could lead to another 9/11-style attack. As for the nonterrorist illegals, they are leaching off social services, he says, but if you start arresting a few, the rest will simply self-deport.

The latest polling shows McCain with a 12-point lead over Hayworth, but McCain is clearly unnerved by the attacks coming from his right. The Senator, who had once backed comprehensive immigration reform with Ted Kennedy (a name Hayworth is fond of bringing up on the stump), came out late in support of SB1070. McCain also proposed a tough border-security plan in April — 3,000 more National Guard troops on the border, 700 miles of border fence — that Hayworth mocked as the "J. D. Hayworth Impersonation Act."

The state's law-enforcement community is split on SB1070. The Arizona Police Association is for it; the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police is not. That division was on display at the annual Border Security Expo in downtown Phoenix, where private contractors hawked items like nightscopes ("Dominate the darkness") and armored ATVs with names like Threatstalker and Prowler. Despite the machismo in the exhibition hall, the opening speaker, former ambassador to Mexico Jim Jones, essentially called for amnesty. David Aguilar, the No. 2 official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, didn't take sides on SB1070, but he did argue that many border communities have remained safe despite the violence in Mexico. He called for a "holistic" approach to the border that would include a lot of help for our southern neighbor. Later at the expo, Sahuarita police chief John Harris, head of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, said that beyond "manpower and budget issues," he worried about how cops around the state would keep the trust of the Hispanic community.

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