Mexican Standoff

Article excerpt

Byline: Eve Conant

Don't blame Arizonans--or immigrants--for the state's draconian new law.

The first time I drove out of phoenix I was stunned by two things: the oppressive heat, and how quickly the city ended and the desert, with its saguaro cacti and brambly creosote, began. It's been more than 20 years since my parents first moved to Arizona, and that desert highway is now flanked by a ribbon of shopping malls and housing developments. A few years ago I would have told you those beige subdivisions with their manicured rock gardens were a safe and friendly place to raise kids. Ask me now and I'd say: think twice.

Arizona has outraged the nation with a new immigration law that obligates authorities to check the documents of anyone they believe is in the country illegally, based on a "reasonable suspicion" during a "lawful" stop. Some accuse lawmakers and the 70 percent of Arizonans who support the bill of acting like Nazis, or of turning Arizona into an apartheid state. But spend some time in Arizona, and you may come to see why so many Arizonans want this.

It's terrifying to live next door to homes filled with human traffickers, drug smugglers, AK-47s, pit bulls, and desperate laborers stuffed 30 to a room, shoes removed to hinder escape. During a month's reporting with police and other law-enforcement agents in Arizona last year, I met many scared people. One man who lived next to a "drop house" for Mexican workers slept with two guns under his bed, his children not allowed to play in the backyard. The sound of gunshots was not uncommon. "Four years ago this neighborhood was poodles and old ladies," he said, too frightened to give his name. "Now it's absolutely insane." That morning, authorities had raided the drop house. When the neighbor told me how his kids had been evacuated behind riot shields, he began to cry. Others, too, were unhappy: the undocumented workers taken from the house were exhausted, sweaty, and dead quiet as they sat on a curb with their hands cuffed, waiting to be taken away.

Within 24 hours I witnessed another bust, this one prompted by a tip from Tennessee authorities. …