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Arizona is ‘Ground Zero’ of Immigration Battle

PHOENIX - When activists from around the country rally for immigrants' rights Saturday, it's no coincidence that they'll converge here.

Arizona is the flash point of the immigration debate, a place where high levels of illegal immigration have led to state and local restrictions, most recently a law that requires government workers to report illegal immigrants seeking public benefits.

Perhaps the most visible figure in Arizona's immigration politics is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He has won praise and condemnation for having deputies swarm neighborhoods, stopping people in search of criminals and illegal immigrants.

Arpaio's department is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of racial profiling and discrimination based on national origin.

Arpaio says that won't stop him. "I'm not going to ignore the laws because of pressure from Washington or demonstrators or politicians," he says.

He has become a symbol of much that the immigrants' rights movement objects to; he says he's "the poster boy."

In rallying against Arpaio and other Arizona politicians and laws, protesters will call for a federal solution to the state's immigration problems.

The issue resonates here because more people cross illegally into the USA through Arizona than anywhere else - nearly half those caught in the past fiscal year, the Border Patrol says. That does not include those who got past the security gantlet.

"Arizona has been an incubator for hate legislation," says Danny Ortega, a Phoenix attorney who is chairman of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization.

"Because an idea is popular doesn't mean it doesn't violate civil rights, it doesn't mean it doesn't violate human rights and it doesn't mean it's constitutional," he says.

Chris Simcox, founder of the border-watch group the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, counters that inadequate border enforcement and federal inaction have forced Arizonans to act.

"Arizona is ground zero not only for illegal immigration, but for exercising our rights - for fighting back," says Simcox, who is challenging Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary this year.

Arizona has adopted several measures to combat illegal immigration, including a 2007 law requiring employers to use a federal database to verify the legal status of employees. A business can lose its license for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of many of those policies, says lawmakers have a responsibility. "Either you enforce the law or you become a victim to your laws," he says.

Rony Martinez, 43, is traveling today from Hempstead, N.Y., to the Phoenix protest. The factory machine operator is with the Workplace Project, a group that advocates for better conditions for immigrant workers. He fears that what's happening in Arizona is spreading elsewhere.

"What Sheriff Arpaio is doing is seen by anti-immigrant groups in other parts of the country as a model for what they can do," he says. "We don't want more clones of him."

4 Responses »

  1. Arizona has adopted several
    measures to
    combat illegal immigration, including a 2007 law requiring employers
    to use a federal database to verify the legal status of employees. A
    business can lose its license for knowingly hiring illegal

    Here is a list:

    In 2000 we passed Prop 203
    - Requires
    all public school instruction to be given in the English language,
    except students designated as "English Learners" who would
    be placed in an intensive English immersion program.
    In 2004 we passed Prop 200
    - Requires
    that voters be able to produce both identification and proof of
    citizenship prior to being allowed to vote in any election. The same
    requirements were also enacted for any person prior to receiving any
    state or locally funded benefits.
    In 2006 we passed Prop 100
    - Proposed
    amendment to the constitution to deny bail to persons charged with
    serious felonies who are in the US illegally, Prop 102 - Proposed
    amendment to the constitution to deny the award of punitive damages
    in civil court cases to persons who are in the US illegally, Prop 102
    - Proposed amendment to the constitution to declare English the
    official language of the state and Prop 300 - Referendum on a
    proposal to require citizenship for eligibility for various
    subsidized services such as in-state tuition and financial
    In 2006 we defeated prop
    202, a
    backdoor to allowing illegal alien invades to work in Arizona.

  2. Goodness! what a close minded and ignorant piece of writing! Before you go making a fool of yourself, do some research and check the facts. The sheriff you speak about is no better than a criminal mobster and most of the people going after him are not even involved with the illegal immigration problem. I will advise to anyone who reads your idiotic article to google "Joe Arpaio" go back a couple of years and read the news about him. It will show you what a dirty senile animal he is.

    • Where does the Sheriff get his power?

      I don't know what the Federal Government is going to do about the Good Sheriff. Sheriffs are Constitutional officers, not U. S. Constitution but State Constitution.

      The people created the Constitution which empowers the Federal government to protect the people. Also, he Tenth Amendment reserves to the states respectively, or to the people, any powers the Constitution did not delegate to the United States, nor prohibit the states from exercising.

      The office of sheriff is created by the Constitution of the great state of Arizona. The sheriff is bound by the oath to uphold the Constitution of the state and answerable only to the people of the county NOT the Federal Government. The office of sheriff IS a part of the checks and balances of the United States of America. It is there to prevent the Federal Government from doing what it is trying to do today.

      So what is the Federal Government going to do? Amend the Arizona State Constitution? I think not.

  3. We in Arizona looked at what has happened to our next door neighbor California. Since the invasion and occupation of our country by 12 to 30 million lawbreaking illegal aliens, California's education system has plummeted from the best in the nation to the worst. Their budget deficit is the worst in the world. We voted for our ballot propositions and support our Sheriff because no one else is going to help protect us, certainly not the fatherless elected officials in Washington whose job it is. Phoenix is the kidnapping capitol of the U.S. Illegal aliens are responsible for double the crime rate of our home grown criminals. We don't need it or want it. Who opposes our desire to live free and peacefully as Americans and legal immigrants? Opposing us are the greedy, criminal employers led by the Chamber of Commerce, racist front groups such as La Raza, MALDEF, ACLU, SPLC, Homeland Secretary Napolitano(she doesn't even know it's a crime to cross our borders illegally), elected leaders like House Speaker Pelosi(she thinks it is unAmerican to enforce our immigration laws), Presidents Obama, Bush I and II, Clinton, Rep. Gutierrez, Sen McCain, Sen. Graham, Sen. Menedez. As long as we are a sovereign State, we will do what we must to protect ourselves. I suggest other states take similar actions, as Washington appears to be utterly useless in watching out for our best interests.