I notice most of you who have contributed to this thread live a long way from the Mexican border. So I'm curious: do you feel that you have an adequate grasp on the situation with illegal immigration in border states? Or the role of Mexico in the narcotics trade?
Speaking for myself: yes and yes. I have been following this issue for a number of years and have supplemented my reading in the news media with a couple of books. I am aware, for example, that on a per capita
basis Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the Western Hemisphere. Even in Kansas the inward migrant flow has brought about noticeable social changes, such as the conversion of inner-city Catholic parishes from majority white (generally German descent) to Hispanic. Like many states a significant distance away from the border, Kansas has relatively liberal policies toward migrants of uncertain immigration status (such as tuition fees at the in-state rate), but a backlash has become evident in measures such as the recent adoption of English as an official language (which is designed to discourage state agencies from providing official materials in Spanish except as required by overriding federal legislation such as the Voting Rights Act).
I'm sure lawmakers in Arizona are no more and no less reasonable than lawmakers elsewhere in the US.
This is true but there is less to it than meets the eye. Rational choice is rational choice, yes, but the choices a rational actor makes will depend on the specific circumstances, including institutional structure and availability of information. There is also the ever-present question of whether elected politicians are maximizing social utility or their own electoral advantage.
Arizona has had long-standing racial problems--SB 1070 is just the latest in a long list of incidents which includes non-observance of MLK Day, election of Evan Mecham as governor ("I've got black friends. I employ black people. I don't employ them because they are black; I employ them because they are the best people who applied for the cotton-picking job"), Proposition 200 in 2004, etc.
Arizona is a snowbird state with a significant transient population. As a result, the voters as a body have little institutional memory and it is easy for opportunistic crazies to get a turn at the wheel, especially if they have a cadre of committed supporters (usually quite conservative--quite a high proportion of born-in-Arizona residents are Mormon, and the state has traditionally been hospitable territory for Birchers) and promise tax cuts. This is essentially how Mecham got elected in 1986.
Arizona tends to have high taxes because its super-rapid growth and desert location make it necessary to spend heavily to provide the infrastructure required to support an ordinary American standard of living. Therefore, most political battles in Arizona are indirectly about taxes. The forerunner of SB 1070 was Proposition 200, which was very similar in that it tried to link provision of public services (as well as certain networked services provided by private entities, like utilities) to proof of citizenship. A "here today, gone tomorrow" electorate has little invested in the community, less of a sense of community to begin with, and tends to be unresponsive to moral imperatives because it tends to think it has the option of leaving before the consequences of bad decisions arrive. This breeds myopic thinking--people support citizenship verification for basic public services as a way of cutting spending and thus taxes, not realizing that even illegal immigrants contribute to state GDP, let alone considering the moral debt society owes to those who have benefited the economy despite being present illegally.
Because it is so easy to elect crazy politicians, and because the electorate considers itself footloose, the persistent pattern in Arizona politics (going back well before the current mess) is to promulgate a really extremist policy, wait and see what the blowback is in terms of boycotts, economic sanctions, adverse court rulings, etc., and row back as required.
I imagine the situation must be pretty desperate if they felt they had to resort to such a drastic law. Arizona is on the front lines of a battle that most people do not understand, because they have not yet been impacted by the consequences.
Looked at in terms of the underlying secular trends, the situation is not more desperate now (in 2010) than it was in 2008, 2004, or the late 1990's when the Clinton administration's intensification of border enforcement in California and Texas shifted the illegal crossings to the inland desert. Moreover, Arizona is not the only state with a desert border which has seen a significant increase in crossing traffic since the Clinton-era enforcement changes. New Mexico has had similar problems with illegal immigrants crossing through the desert and a few years ago increases in the number of people crossing prompted the governors of both
Arizona and New Mexico to declare states of emergency.
The huge difference is that New Mexico, unlike Arizona, has had a stable population with a minimal number of snowbirds and transients, a stable power structure, institutional memory within the electorate, etc. Extremist policies of the kind seen in Arizona never get traction in New Mexico even though, if you accepted the justifications for those policies at face value, you would have to argue that they are just as necessary in New Mexico as in Arizona. (Yeah, yeah, you could argue that since the power structure in NM favors Hispanics, policies that penalize the brothers and sisters south of the border will never get adopted--but if that is so, why don't you hear about the usual Anglo coalitions lobbying for them anyway?)
Therefore, I reject absolutely the claim that SB 1070 is the result of policymakers sitting down soberly to weigh the net costs and benefits of illegal immigration and devising measures of control which obtain the greatest benefit for the least cost of intervention. It is, instead, the result of opportunistic policymakers trying to exploit a local flashpoint (the death of the rancher last March), and it is comparable in this respect to the health-care nullification measures being considered in other Republican-dominated state legislatures which have not been fortunate enough to receive such a gift from God.