In 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer threw a molotov into the immigration debate when she signed SB 1070, a first-of-its-kind bill that empowered local police to investigate anyone they suspected might be an immigrant who arrived here illegally and demand proof of their legal status. But on Sunday she had so many nice things to say about the Senate's immigration bill, which would legalize millions of unauthorized immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship, that she had to clarify the next day she hadn't actually endorsed it. What exactly happened in the intervening three years?
The answer is Arizona's immigration politics shifted in a major way. In 2010, fears of illegal immigration, exacerbated by drug violence in Mexico, made supporting SB 1070 and related legislation a popular move. But the bill sparked a revolt among Latinos, progressives, and civil liberties groups on a national scale with dire economic implications for Arizona. Conventions pulled out of major cities, companies faced sales boycotts, and Arizona's business leaders complained that they were being generally stigmatized by the state's growing reputation as an unwelcoming place for outsiders, especially Latinos. religious leader issued similar complaints, with Mormon missionaries saying that the Arizona law was affecting their outreach in Latin America.
When state Senate president Russell Pearce, SB 1070's architect, tried to bring forward another round of hardline bills in 2011 that would, among other things, require hospitals to report patients living in United States illegally to the authorities, the business community stopped him in his tracks. Pearce ended up facing a recall and lost to a moderate Republican, and again to another Republican in a comeback attempt the next year. The state's been considerably more mellow on immigration matters ever since.
Arizona's two Republican Senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, have felt comfortable enough with the political climate to take leadership roles in crafting the Gang of Eight's bipartisan immigration bill. And now Brewer, who has hinted for months at the possibility that she might endorse their efforts with the right border measures, is happy to tout the latest version's $30-billion-plus haul of federal resources as legislation a hawk could love. She's still keeping her distance from the dicier components for the right, mainly a path to citizenship, but her early praise for the Senate's security component could lend it credibility in the GOP at a crucial time.
“I think that what we’re seeing taking place in the Senate is a victory for Arizona,” Brewer said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “I’m glad that they finally decided to talk about the ‘border surge’ that we’ve called out for since 2010.”
The irony is that just as Brewer is tacking to the center on immigration, the House Judiciary Committee is moving forward with a bill modeled after Arizona's SB 1070 that would encourage local authorities to enforce federal immigration law. If they balk at a comprehensive approach along the Senate's lines, the final battle could come down to a bill the 2013-era Brewer praised versus a bill the 2010-era Brewer inspired.