Building Websites, Fences in Arizona

To get a bigger fence along the border with Mexico, lawmakers propose online donations and prison labor.
by | May 10, 2011

Arizona lawmakers say they will not be deterred. They want a bigger fence along the border with Mexico. If the federal government won’t help, they’ll get it built on their own, using online donations and prison labor, the Associated Press reports. Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed a bill that would set up a site to raise enough money.

"We're going to build this site as fast as we can, and promote it, and market the heck out of it," state Sen. Steve Smith, the bill's sponsor, told the AP. "If the website is up and there is an overwhelming response to what we've done and millions of dollars in this fund, I would see no reason why engineering or initial construction or finalized plans can't be accomplished."

This type of DIY-immigration reform is the reason that Arizona is mired in legal turmoil in the first place. The state already uses donations to pay for legal costs to defend the controversial SB 1070 illegal immigration law, parts of which have been blocked by a federal judge. Brewer has no problem taking the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if it comes to that because the state’s 376-mile border with Mexico is a broken levee of illegal immigrants and drug smuggling. And state officials see no signs of the federal cavalry coming to the rescue, so they’re taking matters into their own hands as a “legal and moral obligation.”

Other states share that perspective, Politico reports: In Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, legislators are weighing bills to check the immigration status of people who might be in the country illegally or to check citizenship of people stopped for other reasons. But in other states, such as California, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire, similar legislation has failed.

But in Arizona, public officials are plowing forward, waging war with the courts and individual rights advocates in the process. The state has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, and cities and organizations refuse to support Arizona’s economy with conferences and conventions.

State leaders don’t care. They’re tired of waiting. "Arizona has been more than patient in waiting for Washington to take concrete steps to stem the flow of illegal immigration," Brewer said in a statement. "After decades of federal inaction and misguided policy, I and the Legislature had no choice but to stand up for the rule of law and the citizens of this great country. Arizona is willing to do the job that the federal government won't do."

In recent weeks, immigration reform has climbed back to one of the major talking points at the White House. President Obama must decide whether to push for renewed funding to keep 1,200 National Guardsmen deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border. Facing pressure, specifically from border states, he has rekindled his interest in a plan that would provide undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship. But Congress couldn’t pass that bill last year. With the partisan shift, it’s an even bigger challenge now, and activists have criticized the administration for a lack of focus at a critical time.

"The moment to use pressure is gone," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), according to the Wall Street Journal. "I'm not going to be disingenuous with the public ... It's not going to happen."

In that respect, states have the right idea of pushing immigration reform rather than waiting around for some grand federal intervention. But Arizona’s continued anti-immigration crusade should be scrutinized as a cautionary tale, which can show states how to avoid legal hazards that drive up costs, all for legislation that may not break the wall of the courts.