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Arizona: Never Let Mexican Border Violence Go to Waste?

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is famous for his creed that one ought never let a crisis go to waste.

Well, Emanuel apparently has a new disciple out West: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who seems determined not to let the crisis of Mexican border violence go to waste. In fact, Gov. Brewer put it to good use just recently when she hid behind it long enough to sign SB 1070, a hypocritical and self-destructive law that is -- in a legal sense -- probably not long for this world.

The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act requires: "For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official, 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."

As such, the law doesn’t just allow for the possibility of racial and ethnic profiling of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant (read: Latinos). It all but requires this sort of thing to happen. In fact, it includes a provision by which concerned citizens can sue law enforcement agencies that they believe to be non-compliant.

[Yet, curiously, in what was surely an oversight, the law contains no such provision allowing Latinos who were either born in the United States or who reside here legally to sue law enforcement agencies that profile them, in violation of federal law.]

There’s a lot that gives SB 1070 a foul odor. But what really stinks about this awful law is the cynical and dishonest way it has been marketed to frightened and vulnerable Arizonans.

Just when you thought you’d heard every possible argument -- plausible and contrived -- to crack down on illegal immigrants, Gov. Brewer has another one: Do it to fight drug cartels.

“Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state, to my administration and to me, as your governor and as a citizen,” Brewer said in signing in the law.  “There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels.”

If you’re not having trouble connecting the dots between illegal immigrants and drug cartels, you should be. There are very few dots to connect. The Mexican drug war has little to do with immigration, illegal or otherwise. The people coming across the U.S.-Mexico border aren’t drug war refugees but economic migrants. According to border enforcement officials, the vast majority of illegal immigrants come from the five or six poorest states in Mexico. If they didn’t want their families to starve, those people had the choice of entering the drug trade or crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. They chose the latter. So not only are they not connected to drug violence, it’s possible that -- because their lives were directly impacted -- they’re more passionately opposed to it than are most Americans. Ironically, if they had entered the drug trade, assuming they weren’t dead or in prison by now, they might be doing very well financially and therefore would never have had to leave Mexico.

This is not to say that border violence isn’t a serious problem and that Arizona isn’t suffering from it. Every American should be troubled and outraged by the recent killing of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, on his ranch near the U.S.-Mexico border. Judging from the physical evidence at the scene, including foot tracks leading back into Mexico, the assailant was likely a Mexican national. No one has been arrested in the crime. He might have been a drug smuggler, as many are suggesting. But he might also have been an immigrant smuggler.

The Mexican drug war is a serious conflict, and our best hope to stop the spread of violence across the U.S.-Mexico border is to continue to support the brave campaign of Mexican President Felipe Calderon to break the backs of the drug cartels. The United States has already pledged $1.4 billion in aid to Mexico through the Merida Initiative, but those funds have been slow to arrive. In any case, the way to battle the drug cartels isn’t by rounding up gardeners and maids in Phoenix or profiling middle-class Latinos in Tucson. It’s by improving our relationship with the Mexican government, the same relationship that is now strained because of a knee-jerk, dimwitted, and testosterone-driven law in Arizona.

Mexican drug violence is a headline-grabber that stirs anxiety and fear. So it’s natural that Gov. Brewer and other supporters of SB 1070 would cynically use it to further their claim. It’s just not logical -- or helpful to the very agenda they claim to be pursuing.