Darkness at Noon in Arizona: Delayed, But Not Over

What explains the current media frenzy about immigration, when crime rates on the Arizona-Mexico border are down, and crime rates across Arizona are at their lowest in decades?
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While a federal judge struck down important parts of Arizona's draconian immigration law last week, namely the obligatory police check of immigration status, the battle over Arizona's immigration crisis has hardly come to a screeching halt.

Over the past three years, publicity hound Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Massachusetts-raised former DEA bureaucrat, has been leading "crime suppression sweeps" targeted at Mexican and Latin American immigrants. Arpaio's costly sweeps have led to the deportation or forced departure of over 26,000 immigrants--a quarter of the entire US total, according to the AP.

And why, when crime rates on the Arizona-Mexico border are down, and crime rates across Arizona are at their lowest in decades?

"This is a media-created event," says Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. "I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."

As the Arizona Republic reported, even the borderlands sheriffs disagree with Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer's immigrant crime fear-mongering:

Even Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, among the most strident critics of federal enforcement, concedes that notions of cartel mayhem are exaggerated. "We're not seeing the multiple killings, beheadings and shootouts that are going on on the other side," he said.

As Arpaio continues to profit from publicity, the death toll of immigrants in the desert are soaring: 40 in Pima County (Tucson area) in the last few months.

Far from any criminal intent, a new report notes that the collapse of climate and clean energy legislation will add to their already record number of environmental refugees from Mexico and Latin America.

Arizona, like the nation, needs immigration reform, not repression.

Not that this is anything new to anyone from Arizona--or vaguely familiar with its history. As a transplanted kid in the 1970s, I learned that the "Five C's" on Arizona seal--cattle, copper, cotton, citrus and climate--not only defined Arizona's historical economic development, but reminded us as students of history that Mexicans and Mexican Americans--illegal or legal--built our state.

And they still do. Until the economy slumps--like the construction industry now in Arizona--or the copper industry in the past. Then, the fear--and the profiting of it--soars again.

Both out-of-state immigrant interlopers, Sheriff Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer are latecomers to the politics of Arizona's immigration porn and prison profits.

In this same burning month of July in 1917, another publicity hound sheriff led his own "crime suppression sweep" and rounded up over a thousand hard-working immigrant copper miners, who were striking for better living conditions in Bisbee. As Katherine Benton-Cohen notes in her brilliant chronicle, Borderline Americans: racial division and labor war in the Arizona borderlands, Sheriff Harry Wheeler simply roared at the rounded up strikers: "Are you American, or are you not?" Wheeler and his cronies illegally and violently placed the copper miners on cattle cars and deported them across the country line.

Wheeler and his anti-immigrant yahoos went down in infamy for the Bisbee Deportation.

Before this latest immigration debacle ever gets untangled in the courts or Congress, Sheriff Arpaio and Gov. Brewer will be no less infamous.

Nor will Arizona's border and immigration issues be over.

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