Anti-Immigrant Hysteria in Arizona Won’t End With the Primaries

Written by on August 26, 2010 in Elections, Enforcement, Immigration 101, Reform with 5 Comments

The Republican Party primaries in Arizona may be over, but the anti-immigrant demagoguery upon which the winning candidates built their campaigns is unlikely to fade away anytime soon. Governor Jan Brewer and Senator John McCain both managed to reverse their declining political fortunes in large part by raising the phantom specter of immigrant violence—a cynical tactic they are likely to repeat in the midterm elections. For instance, both trumpeted the discredited claim that Phoenix is the number two kidnapping capital of the world after Mexico City, and portrayed their various and sundry proposals to “get tough” on unauthorized immigrants as sincere efforts to save Arizonans from kidnappers and other violent criminals.

What Brewer and McCain neglected to mention in their campaign rhetoric, however, is that unauthorized immigrants are the primary victims of the kidnappings that do occur. As Terry Greene Sterling describes in her book Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone, most of the kidnapping victims in Phoenix are unauthorized immigrants held for ransom by the smugglers (coyotes) they hire to bring them to the United States. These are “drop house” kidnappings in which “incoming migrants at the border are baited with low smuggling fares. Those low fares are ramped up by thousands of dollars once the migrants are held at gunpoint in a drop house.” Such “drop house” kidnappings are distinct from “home invasion” kidnappings, “in which kidnappers abduct rich individuals, like drug dealers or human smugglers, or their family members.”

Brewer and McCain are also apparently unaware of the fact that rates for both property crime and violent crime (including murder, assault, and rape) have fallen in Arizona in recent years, including in the state’s three largest cities: Phoenix, Tucson, and Mesa. Moreover, crime rates in Arizona border towns have remained flat for the past decade despite the surge in unauthorized immigration. And a 2008 report from the conservative Americas Majority Foundation found that crime rates in general are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates, including Arizona.

The truth which Brewer and McCain seem so determined to ignore is that unauthorized immigrants have been driven into the waiting arms of both smugglers and kidnappers by more than a decade and a half of failed border-enforcement initiatives which have been implemented in the absence of immigration reform. Were Congress and the White House to actually reform our immigration system to match reality, unauthorized immigration would slow to a trickle, the market for people smugglers would dry up, and kidnappers would no longer have a large pool of vulnerable immigrants to hold for ransom.

Of course, were that to happen, politicians such as Brewer and McCain could no longer score political points by crowing about kidnapping without mentioning who is actually being kidnapped—or why. Given their successful use of such fear-mongering in the primaries, however, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Photo by plymouthlibrary.



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  • Benito

    The Republicans are so funny, when the economy is good you say let’s all celebrate “Cinco de Mayo, my brothers” but when the economy is down “it’s all your fault, you damn immigrant”. When most Americans (with Latin America roots) go to the polls this November we will remember that the GOP has gone on a nationwide rant in proposing and passing several anti-immigration legislation (that our US Courts continue to strike down) and have continue to blame the immigrant for the flat economy or worse. We will remember who stands with us and who stands against us, so trying to stop it now is somewhat funny, but go ahead, you will not change our minds. Plus the more radical of the GOP are now attacking our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, in a misguided attempt to garner some much needed votes, they really are fools, and leading the GOP towards obscurity because they are no longer a party of ideas, just of empty suits. Your hate made you do it, in November; you will reap what you have sown. I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would say about todays GOP, he unlike the current GOP was a man of ideas.

  • Actually it is the politics of fear that they have cultured since September 11. Any time they cannot advance their agenda, they pick a minority and use them as “black sheep”.

    I am an immigrant, I am a lawyer, I am a US citizen and I am a Muslim. So it seems that I several minorities incorporated. Every time they hit on one of them, I feel hurt….

    We need to stand as one against the anti-immigration group. Most of them are not thinking properly….

    Keep up the Good Work

    Shah Peerally
    Managing Attorney
    Shah Peerally Law Group PC

  • Howarddoesn’tlie

    Fear mongering tactics by the GOP will not stop. It plays right into their lap. Most GOP candidates like BREWER, Pearce, Andrew Thomas are not smart enough to have original cohesive ideas. The first step to solving the immigration hysteria and calm Arizonans down is to pass the DREAM Act. DREAM students have gone through the system, excel in the system and now wish to contribute to the United States.

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  • Craig Friedel

    Shah, unlike you I am not a immigrant minority. In fact I am just the opposite- a 23 yr old white male born in the US. However, I was able to live for two years in the Dominican Republic where the yearning to immigrate to America was alive and well, and I to a small degree was able come to understand this desire. The DR is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has substantial unemployment so they looked on America as a land of opportunity. I have many close friends there and wish all of them could come to the US so that they may chase the American Dream. Yet, I also understand the inherent problems a open door policy would generate. According to a United kingdom House of Lords immigration report (which is highly applicable to the US)this policy would result in a mass inflow of immigrants which would cause an upward pressure on the cost of living and a downward pressure on wages. Teh net result would be a severe decline in the quality of life for all citizens. So although you may think that anti- immigration groups are “not thinking properly” I would contend that they are just trying to do what is best for America. I agree however that no such group should “hit on” any minority but instead should work towards passage of fundamental immigration reform that can offer the American Dream to the most amount of immigrants without destroying the dream itself.