HOW ARIZONA BECAME CENTER OF IMMIGRATION DEBATE

April 30, 2010

The frustration had been building for years in Arizona with every drug-related kidnapping, every home invasion, every "safe house" discovered crammed with illegal immigrants from Mexico.  The tensions finally spilled over this month with passage of the nation's toughest law against illegal immigration, a measure that has put Arizona at the center of the heated debate over how to deal with the millions of people who sneak into the United States every year, says the Associated Press (AP). 

"The public wants something done. They're tired of it," said state Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored the legislation.  "They've seen the ineptness and the malfeasance on the part of the government, and they're frustrated." 

  • The new law makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally and directs police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.
  • Arizona is the biggest gateway into the United States for illegal immigrants; the state is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants -- a population larger than that of entire cities such as Cleveland, St. Louis and New Orleans. 

The law reflects frustration with what many lawmakers see as inaction by the federal government, says the A.P.: 

  • Over the past three years, Border Patrol agents have made 990,000 arrests of immigrants crossing the border illegally in Arizona, or an average of 900 a day.
  • The figures represent 45 percent of all arrests of illegal immigrants along U.S. borders.
  • Authorities routinely come across safe houses and vehicles jammed with immigrants across the vast Arizona desert; last week, 67 illegal immigrants were found crammed inside a U-Haul truck -- a fairly typical scenario in the state. 

The volume of drugs coming through the Arizona border is also eye-popping, says the A.P.: 

  • Federal agents seized 1.2 million pounds of marijuana last year in Arizona -- that amounts to an average of 1.5 tons per day.
  • Pot busts have become so common that until recently federal prosecutors in Arizona generally declined to press charges against marijuana smugglers caught with less than 500 pounds.
  • Phoenix has also been dubbed the kidnapping capital of the United States amid a surge of extortion-related abductions tied to drugs and human smuggling; the city has averaged about a kidnapping a day in recent years -- some resulting in torture and death.  

Source: Jonathan J. Cooper and Amanda Lee Myers, "How Arizona became center of immigration debate," Associated Press, April 28, 2010. 

 

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