Ari­zona im­mi­gra­tion law comes af­ter years of mount­ing anger

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Jac­ques Billeaud and Amanda Lee My­ers

PHOENIX — As the days tick down un­til the Ari­zona im­mi­gra­tion law takes ef­fect, the state stands as a mon­u­ment to the anger over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion that is present in so many places.

The anger has been sim­mer­ing for years and erupted into a full-blown fury with the murder of a prom­i­nent rancher on the border ear­lier this year. The killing be­came a pow­er­ful ral­ly­ing cry for im­mi­gra­tion re­form and the sweep­ing new law set to take ef­fect Thurs­day, bar­ring any last-minute le­gal ac­tion.

But it does not tell the whole story about how Ari­zona got to this point.

Turn on the evening news in Ari­zona, and some re­port re­flect­ing the state’s bat­tle with il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion will prob­a­bly flash across the screen.

A drop house crammed with il­le­gal border-crossers smack in the mid­dle of a sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hood. Traf­fic pa­trols and work­place raids that net the ar­rest of dozens of il­le­gal im­mi­grants, of­ten in heav­ily His­panic com­mu­ni­ties. Politi­cians speak­ing ven­omously about border vi­o­lence and the leech of im­mi­gra­tion costs on the state trea­sury.

Along the streets, Ari­zo­nans see day la­bor­ers near Wal­mart and Home De­pot park­ing lots, wait­ing for work. In some Phoenix-area neigh­bor­hoods, Span­ish is so pre­dom­i­nant in spo­ken word and sig­nage that res­i­dents com­plain they feel like they’re in a for­eign coun­try.

Then, rancher Robert Krentz was gunned down in March while check­ing wa­ter lines on his prop­erty near the border. Au­thor­i­ties think — but have never pro­duced sub­stan­tive proof — that an il­le­gal im­mi­grant, likely a scout for drug smug­glers, was to blame.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, Krentz came to sym­bol­ize what’s at stake with il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. Politi­cians quickly con­nected the dots, but ev­ery­day folks also spoke with anger and fear about the rancher’s death.

“You can’t ig­nore the dam­age and the costs to the tax­pay­ers and the dis­re­spect that comes with it and those who think they have a right to break our laws,” said Rus­sell Pearce, the state sen­a­tor who wrote Ari­zona’s new im­mi­gra­tion law.

Pearce is the god­fa­ther of an­ti­il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment in Ari­zona and author of many of the tough laws. He reg­u­larly de­picts il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion as an “in­va­sion.” He can tick off the names of po­lice of­fi­cers killed or wounded by crim­i­nals in the coun­try il­le­gally.

One is his son, Mari­copa County sher­iff’s Deputy Sean Pearce, who sur­vived a gun­shot wound to the ab­domen from an il­le­gal im­mi­grant in 2004 while serv­ing a search war­rant in a homi­cide case.

That might ex­plain Pearce’s in­de­fati­ga­ble ef­fort against those en­ter­ing the coun­try il­le­gally, but he said he held tough views be­fore his son was shot. He in­sists that his frus­tra­tion cen­ters more broadly on the crime that im­mi­grant smug­glers bring into the coun­try and the fi­nan­cial stress that il­le­gal border-crossers put on com­mu­ni­ties.

Forty to 50 per­cent of all im­mi­grant ar­rests each year on the U.S.-Mex­ico border are made in Ari­zona, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Border Pa­trol.

And the an­nual costs? About $600 mil­lion for ed­u­cat­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants at K-12 schools, more than $120 mil­lion for jail­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants con­victed of state crimes and as much as $50 mil­lion that hos­pi­tals have to eat for treat­ing il­le­gal border-crossers, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by Su­per­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic In­struc­tion Tom Horne, Gov. Jan Brewer’s of­fice and the Ari­zona Hos­pi­tal and Health­care As­so­ci­a­tion. The sight of day la­bor­ers – such as these in Chan­dler, Ariz., who said they were in the coun­try il­le­gally – is just one of the things that have stirred frus­tra­tion in the state, ul­ti­mately prompt­ing the law sched­uled to take ef­fect Thurs­day.

The im­mi­gra­tion anger has led the state to pass at least seven laws crack­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in as many years. Those laws made English the state’s of­fi­cial lan­guage, de­nied bail to il­le­gal im­mi­grants charged with se­ri­ous crimes and pro­hib­ited them from be­ing awarded puni­tive dam­ages in civil cases.

The new law re­quires po­lice who are en­forc­ing other laws to check a per­son’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus if of­fi­cers rea­son­ably sus­pect the per­son is in the coun­try il­le­gally. It also re­quires that peo­ple carry and pro­duce their im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers, while mak­ing it a crime for il­le­gal im­mi­grants to so­licit work in a pub­lic place.

Matt York

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