Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce Discusses Illegal Immigration, SB 1070, And Elections (Interview)
September 9, 2010 By Molly OToole
MESA, Arizona — On Tuesday, Aug. 24, The Latin America News Dispatch sat down with Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce to discuss the controversial immigration law, SB1070, of which he was the lead author.
At the time Pearce was up for reelection, but the incumbent senator ran uncontested, predictably coming away with 96.56 percent of the vote (a write-in candidate garnered 3.44 percent).
Though the most controversial portions of 1070 were largely blocked by a federal judge at the end of July, at least 20 states are pursuing similar legislation. Pearce vowed that he would continue his fight against what he calls the “illegal invasion” from its front in Arizona, just as the growing discontent in America will continue, he warns, with inevitable consequences in November.
What motivated you to enter politics, and inspired such passion on these issues?
Well, (he laughs) I don’t think anything motivated me to enter politics. I’ve been in law enforcement most of my life… I like putting the bad guys in jail. I’m very vigilant, always have been. I never intended to run for office … and I never expected to be the icon on these issues from coast to coast. But I did expect to be vigilant in the defense of freedom and liberty and the second amendment and God-given rights. I’ve been vigilant on these issues for years, but when you do certain things all of a sudden it becomes a national story, a national issue.
SB1070 is the hot button issue here — can you talk about your role in the creation of the legislation?
I put the components in there, and again, I’ve worked on it for many years, I know this issue. I can tell you now (laughing) without sounding too bold, I could defend this bill in court better than the law firm they hired. I know the law better, I know the court system better, or at least as well, and I’m disappointed in the weak arguments that were made to some degree by her [Brewer’s] law firm. I think they’re a good couple of guys; they’re not the experts that I would hope be at the table … these buttons are touchy; you’ve got to know the issues.
You have to know the preemption issues, you have to know the case law, you have to know the constitutional issue and the rights of the states — it’s a Republic. It’s not we the people of the United States; it’s we the people of the several states. These are not delegated authorities. These are inherent authorities under the constitution. Those arguments have to be understood.
Many people haven’t read SB1070 or don’t know precisely what it is —
I’ve said that — including Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano. How can you understand something if you haven’t read it? It’s ’cause they have an agenda — they have no intention of securing our borders and enforcing our laws; they have no respect for the laws of this land. They have no respect for the states’ authority. They have no comprehension of the damage … or they don’t care.
… If they had wanted to secure that border, they’d have done it a long. Time. Ago. And I blame both administrations, Republican and Democrat — it’s not a partisan issue, it’s a shameful issue. We have the technology, the resources, and the ability to secure that border.
Can you describe the realities of the situation on the border with Mexico, as statistics have shown that violent incidents on the border have decreased?
I worked very closely with ranchers who suffer greatly because of the government’s failure to secure this border and protect U.S. citizens. I had them up in the Capitol after that event [the killing of border rancher Robert Krentz] to tell their story, rancher after rancher, from the entire span of that border, got up and told about their experience. And that was after Napolitano’s infamous statement that borders were more secure than ever – simply not true. Simply. Not. True. Fact.
Things are worse and more violent than they ever have been on that border, according to rancher after rancher. Their dogs’ throats are cut, their cattle are slaughtered, their fences are torn down, their water lines are destroyed, their homes are burglarized, their vehicles stolen. They live in fear, their windows are boarded, their doors are boarded — you’d think it was the 1800s. They hear noises at night – this is their testimony – they hear noises outside, they pray for daylight.
These ranchers have been on the border for five, six, seven generations. They’ve always had illegals coming across looking for work. But they said: it’s not the same. These aren’t the same kind of people, ’cause they’re bad guys: drug cartels, human smuggling, gang members — almost 20% have criminal convictions — Yeah, there’s a few good people in that mix, too, we can’t deny that. But it’s still illegal. Illegal is not a race; it’s a crime.
… All these people love to mess with statistics. Let me tell you the facts. The facts are if you take the Maricopa county jail, who they’re charging, illegals commit crimes two to three times more than any other demographic … I know that these folks are publicly educated, but that’s simple math.
So the logic would be that if those illegal immigrants would have never gotten here, those crimes never would have been committed?
We raise our own home-grown bad guys, but to import them is outrageous, and a violation. The United States Constitution requires the federal government to secure the border. I want to be very clear: everybody loves to point fingers at the federal government. That is a shared responsibility and a shared blame.
States have inherent authority to enforce these laws as if they were written in the state statute … It has never been just a federal government’s responsibility. And it’s impossible for the federal government to enforce these laws by themselves and have any effect.
So this is the motivation for 1070? That the resources of the federal are too overstretched and that it is a shared responsibility?
The federal government is not overstretched. They’re complacent, they’re complicit in the deaths. They refuse to do their job.
Why do you believe that is?
Well, ask them.
They have more respect for those who break our laws than they do for those who keep our laws. This is the first time in the history of the U.S. that a sitting president has taken the side of a foreign government and sued its citizens. First time ever, in the history of this country.
We had Calderón in the House, invited him to Congress to bad mouth America, in our house! [Obama] took their side, time after time. He absolutely has taken their side. As [Calderón] has blamed America, as he goes around the country — around the world — blaming America for what we’ve done. It’s outrageous.
We have a 26-year high in unemployment, and yet we think it’s ok to import foreign labor and take those jobs away from Americans, the crime that goes with it, the cost in social services — 2.7 billion dollars to educate, medicate, and incarcerate illegal immigrants in the state of Arizona. Apparently that’s ok to these folks too. It’s outrageous, and embarrassing — treasonous, in my opinion. Where’s Joe Wilson when you need him? I guarantee I’da spoke up. I woulda got up and left that chamber.
Some of the arguments Calderón made in Congress — the U.S. being the largest market in the world for drugs, the drug war in Mexico being fought with American guns — were in regards to the U.S.’s role in Mexico’s challenges. How do you respond to these claims?
It’s just like saying because I have a car in my driveway I play a role in autotheft; it’s stupid. Control his crime problem? Yeah, he’s got a crime problem down there — but he’s exporting it. He’s exporting it and we’re importing it. Most the guns don’t come from America; most of them are illegal guns, and have been. These myths have to stop. They have a problem down there; he can’t blame other countries as they even export their problems to America.
What is your perspective on the broader relationship between the U.S. and Mexico?
We embrace immigration. What we don’t support is law breaking. When I go to Mexico, I follow their rules and their laws, and they have a right to expect that. I expect the same in return. They have not been our friend, they are a corrupt nation, about to be destroyed by the cartels and the lawlessness down there. 22,000 homicides in the last three years along that border, 3 to 500 beheadings … They have produced and handed out pamphlets on how to break into America and get free stuff. They have no respect for our laws. That’s not a good neighbor. That’s why you have fences between neighbors.
What does securing the border look like?
Well, lotta ways to do it; we have great technology. First, I’ll take San Diego for an example — they’ve had a 95 percent reduction in crime in San Diego since they put up what they promised us: a two-layer fence with technology and lighting. But they refuse to do it. They’ve refused. Not that they can’t; we’ve spent billions and trillions of dollars in tarp, bailouts, stimulus, but we do nothing to secure the border. It’s costing America billions of dollars, and again, the deaths and the maimings and the gangs. It’s hard for me to comprehend why.
What do you propose, given your experience both in law enforcement and as a Senator, to solve these problems?
Enforcement. I’ve been in law enforcement my whole life. The enforcement option actually works. I know it’s a novel idea, but if we have a law on the books … We have good laws! What we have is a broken political system with wimpy politicians. We don’t have an immigration reform need — we don’t need amnesty. That’s what they talk about in Washington. 70 to 80 percent of Americans continuously say, ‘secure the border, enforce the laws,’ but Washington took the issue and tries to shove amnesty down their throat … [Illegals] were leaving Arizona before 1070 even went into effect. They’re leaving Arizona by the droves because we tend to enforce the law. Maybe they’ll catch on if we set the right example for ’em that enforcement actually works.
And you don’t need roundups; it’s just traffic stop at a time. Enforce. The. Laws. Go after illegal employers, no free stuff, quit inviting people over to our country by giving them free stuff while it’s illegal. It’s illegal doin’ it, illegal in name, yet if you break into this country you think you have right to a job and free stuff — free education, free health care? Enough’s enough. Just the integrity of the enforcement of our laws and it would change overnight. You gotta do both [enforce laws and secure the border]. As long as you have jobs and free stuff they’re gonna come. You’ve got to cut off the inducements.
Arizona didn’t make illegal illegal. Illegal was already illegal. I know that’s hard for folks in Washington D.C. to understand. Not even sure they can spell the word illegal. That’s why there’s gonna be a change this November. We’re sick and tired of polticians who ignore the damage to America.
Do you think that the elections today [Aug. 24] are going to be reflective or predictive of that change politically? Do you think that 1070 and the immigration debate in Arizona is being used for positioning politically?
Well, I think they are, but it’s hard to beat people who spend over 20 million dollars to maintain their seat as they deceive you. It’s difficult when politicians who have never worked with us on this issue all of a sudden after 27 years have found the border. Soon as the election’s over, they’ll forget where that border’s at, I can almost guarantee ya.
… Even they can’t run from the issues, so that is good in a way. They’re forced to take a position — it’s just like all the cities that talk about boycotting Arizona. They’re all open border, sanctuary cities that have mayors and policeman who have set policies that refuse to enforce the law. It has outed those people. There will be consequences for those actions. And the public will hold many of those people — not all of ’em — accountable.
One of the main criticisms, both politically and legally, is that by enforcing laws similar to 1070, you inevitably are participating in racial profiling — which of course you knew was coming. As a primary author of the bill, how would you answer that accusation?
Of course, you know, I don’t expect some of these folks to have a high IQ or pay attention to reality. They have an agenda, that agenda is the name-call and the fear mongering because they know the public’s on our side. They know the public is sick and tired of ignoring the laws that are broken in this land. We’re a nation of laws. That’s what a republic is about.
You know the federal law doesn’t even prohibit racial profiling, and the courts ruled that it’s ok. The federal law doesn’t require lawful contact because you ask them a question; the Arizona law does. We have put safeguards in this law that the federal law does. Not. Have. We went the extra mile in here, and that’s demeaning to law enforcement, demeaning to law enforcement to think that they’re out lookin’ to stop people just because how they look? You know we have policies and procedures that protect the public and regulate. If you have bad policemen, that doesn’t mean you have bad law.
If you’re an average member of the public and you’re trying to understand how this works. More than 30 percent of Arizona is Hispanic or of Hispanic descent — how do you avoid profiling between a person looks Hispanic, versus a person who is not?
Why do you think about Hispanic? You could get deported if you’re Canadian.
If I stop you and you have no ID, you don’t have your driver’s license, you don’t speak English — those things start leading to suspicion, though not probable cause … Those things aren’t hard to prove. We do it everyday. All of a sudden now it’s tough to prove? We’ve been doin’ it for years! I did it when I started law enforcement, March 7, 1970. It was common practice. Most of the time [illegal immigrants] admit it.
It says it right in the book; it says lawful contact, reasonable suspicion. So if I stop you, and I don’t have any reason to believe you are illegal, it’s the end of the story. That’s when you take it on down the road; that’s all that’s required. This bill does not give law enforcement any more authority to stop you today, than it did yesterday.
What do you see as the future of this whole debate?
Enforcement. And I will not quit until the laws are enforced. We are a generous nation. We have more people living in this country legally than every. Other Developed. Country. Combined. But you must have a permission slip. And I want the laws enforced. And if you won’t go home, I’ll help you.
… You know you’ve got two groups today in the U.S.: you’ve got the open border anarchists, who want to change the political makeup of America … then you have the corporate oligarchy in Washington D.C. that are controlled by the thick checkbooks on K Street … And I call that second group profits over patriotism, and the other group simply anarchists, who have no respect for the laws at all.
We’ll see what happens in the next few months
About Molly OToole
Molly O’Toole has worked for a dozen publications, from Los Angeles Magazine and USA Today to current contributions at Newsweek International and The Associated Press. She most recently returned from three months in Mexico City, working for the AP and on her thesis about U.S.-Mexico relations. Molly earned her M.A. from New York University in the global joint master's program for journalism and International Relations. She graduated cum laude from Cornell University and is a native of San Diego, California.