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Michelle Roles/Arizona Farming & Ranching Hall of Fame/AP

Land without law

Immigration | Arizona controversy shows what happens when Washington refuses to control the borders

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

At around 10:30 the morning of March 27, Arizona rancher Phil Krentz received a call from his brother, Rob, on their two-way radio. Rob was out checking water lines and said he had spotted someone he believed to be an illegal alien at one of the ranch's watering holes. He was driving over to investigate and possibly, as he had done on many previous occasions, offer assistance. Approximately 12 hours later, police found 58-year-old Rob Krentz's lifeless body slumped over his ATV with the engine still running.

Tire marks at the scene of the crime indicated that Krentz was trying to flee when the assailant shot him and his dog multiple times. Foot tracks that led back across the border into Mexico led investigators to believe that Krentz's assessment was correct: His killer was most likely an illegal alien. Other evidence suggested it may even have been a premeditated murder-retaliation for a call Phil Krentz made to the Border Patrol the day before that resulted in the arrest of eight illegal immigrants suspected of running drugs and the seizure of 290 pounds of marijuana.

Call it the return of the Wild West. It may be difficult for residents of non-border states to understand Arizona's tough new immigration law, but a good way to begin is with stories like the Krentzes'. The family has been ranching the land 12 miles from the border since 1907, and they and families like them insist it is going to take more than showdowns with lawless smugglers to move them from an area that is becoming more violent by the day.

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Following the nationally publicized shooting, the Obama administration (which has roundly condemned Arizona's new immigration policy) made no gesture of tougher border enforcement to help quell feelings of outrage and anxiety bubbling among locals. Thus, on April 23, Gov. Jan Brewer had little choice but to a sign a bill that codifies at state level laws that have long gone unenforced federally. It was either that or go against the will of 70 percent of likely Arizona voters (including 51 percent of Democrats) in an election year.

Like federal law, SB 1070 requires non-citizens to carry proof of legal status at all times. It then goes a step further by allowing state authorities to detain anyone they suspect of being an illegal alien who fails to provide such proof. It reads, "For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state . . . where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person."

Proponents point out that the "lawful" contact requirement falls under the auspices of the Fourth Amendment, so a stop solely predicated on skin color would not be legal. They also point out a stipulation that police "may not solely consider race, color or national origin" and that Brewer has issued an executive order requiring officers to undergo additional training to prevent racial profiling.

However, enabling police to demand "papers" brings up ugly connotations, and parsing words like solely could leave the door open for abuse. To critics across the nation, Arizona has empowered police to hassle anyone with brown skin. But given economic and safety realities in the state, these protestations are unlikely to sway local opinion.

While the Maricopa County Attorney's office estimates that only 10 percent of Arizona's adult population is illegal, they commit 22 percent of felonies. In Tucson, almost 20 percent of people arrested by the Border Patrol have criminal records in the United States. Compounding the violence spilling over the border is the economic strain that illegal immigration has put on the state's budget. The Center for Immigration Studies reports that one-third of households headed by illegal immigrants used at least one major welfare program in 2007. Arizona also spends $2 billion annually in education costs for the children of illegal aliens.

A regular church-goer, Rob Krentz told PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly in 1999 that despite the vast sums of money his ranch has lost as a result of illegal crossing, "If they [illegal immigrants] come in and ask for water, I'll still give them water. You know, that's just my nature." In the past, most Arizona citizens would have shared that attitude. But with border-related violence increasing and state coffers running dry while Washington turns a blind eye, such sentiments of charity may be becoming a thing of the past.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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