Arizona's Down on Brown and Suffering Economically; Plus, Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris Finally Gets in Touch

State Senator Russell Pearce, driving the state toward bankruptcy, one Mexican at a time.
Stephen Lemons


It's not news that the coffers of the state of Arizona and its municipalities are as dry as week-old turkey.

The state's closing its parks. Rest stops statewide have been shuttered. And Republican Governor Jan Brewer is staking her political career (or what's left of it) on a proposed increase in the state sales tax.

The Phoenix City Council just gave the nod to a 2 percent sales tax on food, a regressive measure that hits the city's poor disproportionately.

And in a recent series that reads like a bad joke, the state's paper of record suggested that a boost in tourism and more trade with Mexico was the answer to Arizona's fiscal woes.

Why does that sound like Henny Youngman (or, say, Neil Hamburger for the hipper crowd)?

Because at the very time revenue's needed the most, Arizona is controlled by a cabal of extremist lawmakers, such as state Senator Russell Pearce, whose obsession is ridding the state of illegal immigrants and making those legal residents of Mexican descent so uncomfortable they might as well skedaddle.

So, even without a budget, Pearce and fellow Hispanic haters — like state Representative Carl Seel (a member of Chris Simcox's old Minutemen group MCDC) and state Representative John Kavanagh, who once applauded neo-Nazi J.T. Ready on the state House lawn — push on with Orwellian measures that resemble something out of apartheid's old playbook.

Legislation that would make it a trespassing offense to be in the state sans papers and give local cops wide latitude to stop and arrest anyone suspected of being here illegally is on the verge of passing.

Ditto a bill that would count all public school students "who cannot demonstrate proof of legal U.S. residence." Which means, of course, that they'll be asking little ones for their documents.

So the question I have for the Arizona Republic regarding its series on tourism and trade with Mexico is: Why would anyone of Hispanic descent — who has a choice — want to set foot or stay in a state that's practically run by a gaggle of blithering bigots?

Also, having Sheriff Joe Arpaio as the state's unofficial racial-profiling bobble-head doesn't help matters.

I know the legislative nativists and their supporters would say good riddance to the brown folk who might be leaving, not coming, or canceling their trips or conventions to the state.

Back when the employer-sanctions law was being hotly debated, University of Arizona researcher Judith Gans suggested that emptying the state of its foreign-born workforce meant that Arizona was "deciding as a matter of policy to shrink our economy."

Pearce let on that he didn't care whether his proposals shrank the economy; he just wanted the illegals out and the so-called "rule of law" established. You know, his rules and his laws.

Pro-apartheid South African President P.W. Botha was all for the rule of law, too, as were the American South's many segregationist politicians long ago.

Say you don't care? Waltz down to the local Food City or Ranch Market and eyeball the folks wheeling out their carts full of groceries.

Think of every pork chop and horchata bottle you spy as money to keep our libraries running, our cops on the street, and our rest stops open for business. It's called commerce, and it puts dinero in the government's pockets.

But I know that too many folks here in Sand Land could give a cold cactus. This, despite the fact that U of A's Gans estimated in 2007 that the total sales-tax revenue attributable to non-citizens was $1.5 billion.

She further concluded that the income derived from this segment of the population offsets the costs in services for education, healthcare, and public safety.

To be sure, the economy is no longer pumping as it once was, and immigrants have been leaving Arizona for other states. It's delusional to think that the majority is leaving for south of the border.

And would anyone with half a lick of sense argue that the state doesn't need whatever tax revenue it can bring in?

That's why the news that Phoenix civil rights activist Sal Reza's considering a call for an economic boycott of the state is intriguing.

Reza mentioned this to me recently when he explained that he and other activists from his Puente Movement will be at the state Capitol at noon on the Thursday this column is published to denounce Russell Pearce and set off on a several-state caravan, to end March 21 in Washington, D.C., where they'll join a giant rally for immigration reform.

The ornery pro-immigration activist is demanding a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to pressure the DOJ to make haste with its civil rights investigation of Sheriff Joe. Reza and his group want a federal takeover of Arpaio's department. Such court-ordered receiverships have occurred before, most notably in California, where the state's entire penal system was placed into federal receivership in 2005.


Along the way to D.C., Reza's merry band of troublemakers will stop at cities such as El Paso, Austin, Houston, and Atlanta to bear witness to the human rights abuses occurring in Maricopa County and Arizona. Reza said he wants to demonize Pearce as one of the key architects of the suffering and oppression.

But he'll also have another message.

"We'll be telling people along the route not to come to Arizona while this regime is still in," he said. "If they want to have a convention or to visit somewhere, Arizona is not the place, because it's dangerous. [Under these new laws], anyone who comes here can potentially go to jail."

That's not much of an exaggeration; the new laws will no doubt target those who are the shade of cinnamon. Though the statutes could apply to them, too, tourists from Europe and Canada need not fear.

Asked if a successful boycott would simply hurt those he wishes to protect, Reza admitted that, in the short term, it could accelerate the process of Arizona's decay.

"Right now, the people feeling the pain are the lower and lower-middle classes," he said. "Not the people like Pearce. Otherwise they would stop this nonsense they're doing.

"If they're going to criminalize [immigrants], it's time for politicians like Pearce to actually feel the pain that everyone else is feeling."

Whistle if you walk past this particular graveyard. What Reza's suggesting would be hard to pull off, but so was getting Wells Fargo to ask Sheriff Joe to vacate his two floors in the tony downtown Phoenix office tower that bears the bank's name.

Similar economic actions worked in the past — such as the boycott in favor of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Arizona and the 1980s movement to have universities divest from South Africa.

This state is bursting with hatred toward Mexicans, and that hate comes at a colossal price. How willing are you to pay it in this down economy?


Because my recent cover story "Blood's Thicker Than Water" dealt, in part, with activist Mike Wilson's efforts to leave water on the Tohono O'odham Nation for migrants crossing that Connecticut-size patch of desert, I attempted mightily to ask some questions of nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. concerning the humanitarian crisis there.

I even buttonholed Norris at a big rodeo in Sells, the nation's capital. He told me, "I'm not going to answer your questions here," then referred me to his lieutenant, who in turn referred me to a PR firm that works for the nation, Strategic Issues Management Group.

Matt Smith, a rep for Strategic Issues got back to me with a statement from the chairman, which you can read in its entirety on my Feathered Bastard blog on New Times' Web site. Unfortunately, I got it as it my story was going to press, so I was unable to include it in the feature.

The statement vaguely addresses questions concerning Wilson, himself a tribal member, being forbidden to put out water on Tohono O'odham land by one of the tribe's districts, though Wilson continues to do so anyway. The tribe has a federal system of government, made up of 11 districts.

"The Tohono O'odham Nation's executive office," reads the statement, "is committed to upholding the Constitution and respecting the rights of each district. As such, it does not and will not encroach upon [a] District's decision to prohibit water stations within its boundaries. This is a local issue for the local government. It is also a policy that has been in place for several years and one that is known by Nation members."

Wilson, who will be at Scottsdale's Mustang Library at noon on March 4 for a Q&A session after a screening of the acclaimed border documentary Crossing Arizona, took issue with Chairman Norris' release, calling the statement an abrogation of the nation's moral responsibility to act.

"The nation has refused to acknowledge, even in its vocabulary, that human beings are dying on tribal lands," said Wilson of Norris' statement, which refers to "illegal immigration" and to "migrants" crossing but not to deaths in the desert. "It has repeatedly refused to accept any kind of moral responsibility for migrants dying."

On the issue of the districts acting independently, Wilson said:

"We've heard this argument before . . . It's a legal fig leaf to hide behind that notion that it's up to the districts to determine their own policies. That's true to an extent, but the nation should not resort to legalism. This is a human rights issue."

In his press release, Norris also talks of the nation's agreeing to the placement of "eight highly visible beacon towers" on its land by the U.S. Border Patrol, which a migrant could use to signal for help. That's assuming the migrant were ready to turn himself over to the loathed la migra.


Wilson insisted the beacons are "not sufficient to prevent migrant deaths," and asserted that they are not often used.

"I find it very hypocritical," replied Wilson, "for the Tohono O'odham Nation to say that tribal members cannot provide humanitarian aid, but that the Border Patrol can provide humanitarian aid in the form of these rescue beacons, because these beacons are there to prevent migrants from dying in the desert.

"I think that also clearly demonstrates that the Tohono O'odham Nation has surrendered its will to the Border Patrol."

U.S. border policy has closed off urban areas of migration, creating a "funnel effect" that channels migrants into remote, desolate terrain, and the Tohono O'odham Nation has borne the brunt of the ill effects of this. The tribe estimates that it costs its police force $3 million annually to deal with various border-related problems, such as drug-running, trash, and dead bodies.

Scores of migrant corpses are found each year. Last fiscal year, the tribe said 55 corpses were discovered on the reservation, and in past years, it's been as high as 83, according to other sources. These recovered remains make up a huge chunk of the yearly desert death toll compiled by the Tucson civil rights group Derechos Humanos.

An organized humanitarian response seems called for on the nation, but groups such as Humane Borders and No More Deaths are not allowed onto the reservation to leave water. Indeed, some activists have been banished from tribal land.

So for the meantime, Wilson trudges on alone, leaving water with the help of a few friends, such as former tribal council member David Garcia. Wilson says he's obligated by his conscience to take the action. Those who find his gift of agua under the blazing sun are grateful he has one.

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