Arizona on front line in immigration debate

By Bruce Lindsay


Published: Monday, July 19 2010 9:00 p.m. MDT

A fence separates the cities of Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, a frequent crossing point for people entering the U.S. illegally.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

This is the third in a four-part series on immigration.

PHOENIX — The controversy over immigration in Utah has its roots in Arizona — which has become the front line in the fight against illegal immigration.

Near Douglas, Ariz., Border Patrol agents watch the porous line that runs east and west as far as the eye can see.

This stretch has a new barricade at 3 million dollars a mile replacing the fence that was there.

Wendy Glenn is a rancher who lives not far from the fence. She and her husband have operated a cattle ranch on the border for 50 years.

The old fence that guarded the border was eight-strand barbed wire, she said.

"It was an old fence, and they would just kick it and break it." The family was constantly fixing the fence to keep their cattle from wandering south into Mexico.

"The illegals were going through," Glenn said. "In a mile stretch we would fix 50 or 60 holes a week."

While the fence has been upgraded to iron bars and stands about 5 feet tall, it is still easy to jump over. And Glenn and her husband say they still fear for their safety.

"I'm so tired of this," she said. "This is our place. Our territory. And they're coming in and they're running it over us. It's hard to be tolerant."

One hundred and fifty miles north, the Arizona Legislature recently said "no more" and began a movement for states to take on immigration enforcement themselves. Not long after, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said he would sponsor a similar bill in the Utah Legislature.

The Arizona law, SB1070, requires police to check the immigration status of people they lawfully stop and suspect are in the country illegally.

Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the Arizona law, has become the face of the anti-illegal immigration movement in the U.S. In recent weeks, Sandstrom and other Utah legislators traveled to Arizona to meet with Pearce and discuss the reasons behind his state's new law, which takes effect next week.

"Thirty years they've been promising to secure that border," Pearce says of the federal government.

The 63-year old, who served in Vietnam and previously worked as a deputy for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, has made his reputation as a law-and-order man. He doesn't mince words when it comes to how he feels about illegal immigrants.

"They're all criminals," Pearce told KSL during an interview. "If they've broken into this country or remain, it's a crime."

Pearce sees illegal immigrants as an enormous public safety problem.

"They're rapists. They're drug runners, they're human smugglers, gang members. It's outrageous."

A few miles away, in Mesa, people who would beg to differ with Pearce believe what is outrageous is the police mandate under Arizona's new law.

People like Gabriel Calderon worries it will result in racial profiling.

"They may want to stop me because they may think I'm a Mexican … ," he said. "You know, my skin, it says it all."

As a naturalized U.S. citizen, Calderon says he feels betrayed by the law.

Others say the law is causing Hispanics to leave Arizona.

Tiffany Cons, a manager at Mesa supermarket Rancho Grande, says that since passage of the Arizona law in April, so many Hispanic customers have left Mesa, sales have fallen 25 percent.

But that's nothing compared to the adverse impact illegal immigration is having on Arizona, Pearce says.

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