Alien Nation

Page 2 of 8

Indeed, his moral political minority may no longer be a minority by next year.

"I've been out speaking with people, and I continue to hear the same thing," Pearce says to New Times. "Our country is being destroyed. And we're sick of politicians standing around watching it happen. It's time to do something. And that's what we're doing."

Yes, he's doing something. Even he admits he's not sure what effect his ideas would have. He knows he doesn't have a solution to illegal immigration. Never said he did. Prop 200 was more of a message.

Proposition 200 was based on a pair of assumptions:

One, that illegal immigrants are voting illegally.

This notion appears to be absurd. No election officials interviewed in several polling locations in the state report any cases of election fraud by illegal immigrants.

Two, that illegal immigrants are obtaining social services intended for citizens.

This is certainly true, and probably costing Arizonans hundreds of millions of dollars. Prop 200 advocates estimate $1.4 billion.

However, most of the expensive social services received by illegal immigrants are services that, by federal law, must be given to them or to their American-born children, who are by law American citizens.

The idea behind Proposition 200 is that people voting, registering to vote or applying for "public benefits" would have to prove their U.S. citizenship in Arizona.

Which, experts agree, probably would do little more than drive up the price for the fraudulent documents that most illegal immigrants already have.

What's more, "public benefit" is not defined further. The vagueness of that term most likely would spawn lawsuits and court challenges.

Also troubling: Government workers could be fined, jailed or sued if they failed to report suspected illegal immigrants. Workers at all levels of government would need to be trained in complicated immigration law so they can avoid prosecution and become, essentially, immigration police.

State officials estimate it would cost at least $27 million to implement Pearce's ideas.

"It's just a mess," says Alfredo Gutierrez, a longtime state Democratic party leader and one of the leading voices against the new law.

Again, though, the ins and outs of the proposition aren't the real issue. Pearce says the proposition's biggest job is to send the message that Arizonans (perhaps representing the American public) adamantly want illegal immigration addressed forcefully at all levels of government. They want something done to slow down those four million illegal immigrants estimated to be crossing the southern U.S. border each year.

The problem, as has been true throughout history, is that the issue of immigration isn't as black and white as politicians make it. Especially in Arizona.

Some background: Arizona used to be part of Mexico. In 1848, the United States won the Mexican-American War and, with that, the chance to buy Arizona and the rest of the desert Southwest from Mexico for $15 million. The Gadsden Purchase added the rest of present-day Arizona five years later.

In the 1850s and 1860s, Southern Democrats, a smaller number of Lincoln Republicans, and a few other groups began running out to the area to fight for control of the political future of the state. Mixed in with their politics and faiths was a desire to become prosperous. Also, they came out with a lot of other people who just wanted to be prosperous.

They bought up land and mining claims and built businesses next to Mexicans, who were doing the same thing based on the same desires and goals.

Some of these capitalists did well and hired more and more rural working-class Mexicans.

Then the copper and silver mines grew, sometimes out of old Spanish mines, and farms grew, sometimes out of old Hohokam Indian fields. Then water came. Then the military bases came. Then air conditioning came. Then good roads came, and then better cars came. Then hotels came. Then golf got big. Then California got more expensive. Then the Valley of the Sun began receiving more new residents than any metropolis in the country.

All this created a unique economy based heavily on labor-intensive work in the killer Arizona sun. For a profit to be made, workers doing that work had to come cheap. Mines, ranches, cotton farms, hotels, restaurants, golf courses and housing construction all flounder if the difficult front-line labor positions get too expensive to fill.

And all through this, the economy of Mexico continued to flounder, so people came north to prosper.

But that antebellum Southern mindset from Arizona's territorial days seems to linger:

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Nelson