As the days tick down until the Arizona immigration law takes effect, the state stands as a monument to the anger over illegal immigration that is present in so many places.
PHOENIX — As the days tick down until the Arizona immigration law takes effect, the state stands as a monument to the anger over illegal immigration that is present in so many places.
The anger has been simmering for years and erupted into a full-blown fury with the murder of a prominent rancher on the border earlier this year. The killing became a powerful rallying cry for immigration reform and the sweeping new law set to take effect Thursday, barring any last-minute legal action.
But it does not tell the whole story about how Arizona got to this point.
Turn on the evening news in Arizona and some report reflecting the state's battle with illegal immigration will likely flash across the screen:
A drop house crammed with illegal border-crossers smack in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. Traffic patrols and workplace raids that net the arrests of dozens of illegal immigrants, often in heavily Hispanic communities. Politicians speaking venomously about border violence and the leech of immigration costs on the state treasury.
Along the streets, Arizonans see day laborers near Walmart and Home Depot parking lots, waiting for work. In some Phoenix-area neighborhoods, Spanish is so predominant both in spoken word and signage that residents complain they feel like they're in a foreign country.
Then rancher Robert Krentz was gunned down in March while checking water lines on his property near the border. Authorities believe — but have never produced substantive proof — that an illegal immigrant, likely a scout for drug smugglers, was to blame.
Almost immediately Krentz came to symbolize what's at stake with illegal immigration. Politicians quickly connected the dots, but everyday folks also spoke with anger and fear about the rancher's death.
"You can't ignore the damage and the costs to the taxpayers and the disrespect that comes with it and those who think they have a right to break our laws," says Russell Pearce, the fiery state senator who wrote Arizona's new immigration law.
Pearce, in fact, is the godfather of anti-illegal immigration sentiment in Arizona and author of many of the tough laws.
He regularly depicts illegal immigration as an "invasion." He can tick off the names of police officers killed or wounded by criminals in the country illegally.
One of those names is that of his son, Maricopa County Sheriff's Deputy Sean Pearce, who survived a gunshot wound to the abdomen from an illegal immigrant in 2004 while serving a search warrant in a homicide case.
That might explain Pearce's indefatigable effort against those entering the country illegally, but he says he held tough views before his son was shot. He insists that his frustration centers more broadly on the crime that immigrant smugglers bring into the country and the financial stress that illegal border-crossers put on communities.
Between 40 percent and 50 percent of all immigrant arrests each year on the U.S.-Mexico border are made in Arizona, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.
And the annual costs? About $600 million for educating illegal immigrants at K-12 schools, more than $120 million for jailing illegal immigrants convicted of state crimes and as much as $50 million that hospitals have to eat for treating illegal border-crossers, according to figures provided by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, Gov. Jan Brewer's office and the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.
At Copper Queen Community Hospital, 4 miles north of the border in Bisbee, the emergency room sees one or two illegal immigrants every shift. Dr. Daniel Roe, the emergency-room medical director, says many come in with broken bones from jumping the 15-foot-tall border fence, others suffer from walking for days in the desert with little to no water, and others have been involved in car accidents.
"It's very much part of our normal flow," he says. "But it demands resources. So it affects the operating budget."
Immigrant medical costs led the hospital to shutter a skilled nursing facility and its maternity ward several years ago, according to the hospital's top administrator.
The law requires police who are enforcing other laws to check a person's immigration status if officers reasonably suspect the person is in the country illegally. It also requires that people carry and produce their immigration papers, while making it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work in a public place.
The immigration anger has led the state to pass at least seven laws cracking down on illegal immigration in as many years. Those laws made English the state's official language, denied bail to illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes and prohibited them from being awarded punitive damages in civil cases.