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Arizona, a rogue state at war

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
  • Arizona has asked for military equipment, including drones, to beef up border security
  • President Obama has approved sending National Guard to the border
  • Navarrette says border has never been more protected, but it's not the real issue
  • He says culprit in illegal immigration is employers who hire illegals to do jobs Americans won't do

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, a nationally syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Don't be surprised if, any day now, you read that the People's Republic of Arizona is in the market for nuclear warheads to put an end, once and for all, to illegal immigration on its southern border. After all, it's the next logical step for the rogue state.

This week, to advance the narrative that Arizona has no choice but to do its own immigration enforcement because the federal government is asleep at the switch, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called for air support. Brewer requested helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles from the White House to patrol the border region with Mexico.

In a letter to President Obama, Brewer asked that the National Guard reallocate reconnaissance helicopters and robotic surveillance craft to the "border states" to prevent illegal immigration. The governor also requested the deployment of unmanned drones, including possibly the Predator drones used in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, in her letter, Brewer even mentioned those foreign wars as examples of where the drones have been effective.

What's the matter with Arizona? Isn't it a little early in the year for the folks in the desert to be suffering from sunstroke?

I guess this is par for the course. Brewer just signed SB 1070, a disgraceful anti-immigration and pro-racial-profiling law, to give local and state cops throughout the state the chance to suit up and play border patrol agent. Why shouldn't she get the chance to suit up and play general?

After all, like the United States, Arizona is currently involved in two wars. There's the hypocritical war against the very illegal immigrants that the state has spent the past 15 years providing with gainful employment by allowing them to do jobs that Arizonans wouldn't do. And then there's the rhetorical war with the Obama administration, which Arizona wants to portray as negligent in stopping illegal immigration, which forced Arizonans to take matters into their own hands.

The argument that the federal government isn't actively engaged in border enforcement is both dishonest and reckless.

It is dishonest because it's not true. I've visited the U.S.-Mexico border a dozen times in the past 10 years: in Texas, Arizona and California. I've interviewed countless border patrol agents and supervisors. I've also been up in a Border Patrol helicopter flying above the border, which offers a unique perspective on border security.

So I can tell you what the border patrol agents on the ground would tell you: The U.S.-Mexico border has never been more fortified. There are now more than 20,000 border patrol agents on the federal payroll. That's more agents than any other federal enforcement agency, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those agents apprehend people and deport them at a feverish clip. In fact, it was recently announced that the Obama administration deported more people last year than the Bush administration during its final year in office.

It is reckless because -- when this law is hauled before a federal judge, as it will be -- opponents will argue that the measure violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution by usurping federal authority to enforce immigration law. And that's the very thing that proponents seem to be admitting in their bravado. In fact, it might not be a bad idea for Arizona officials to pipe down and stop bragging about how they're doing the job of the federal government in terms of immigration enforcement, since that's a no-no under the Constitution.

If the federal government does take border enforcement seriously, critics might ask: Why are there still people trying to enter the United States illegally? Simple. We can dig a moat, deploy an army, build walls or call in an airstrike, but desperate people will always find a way to go around, under or over any impediment in their path to a better life.

This isn't to condone illegal immigration. My views -- in support of deportations, workplace raids, giving more resources to the Border Patrol etc. -- are well known. I'm just telling you what Border Patrol agents tell me: that it doesn't make any sense to focus all our attention at the border while turning a blind eye to employers in the interior. That's like trying to fill a bucket with teaspoons of water without first plugging the hole at the bottom.

Now Obama has fallen into that same trap. He is reportedly ready to announce that he is sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help control illegal immigration and quell some of the violence. That's a far cry from the 6,000 troops that Arizona Sen. John McCain had requested, and congressional Republicans seem miffed that Obama stole their thunder.

Still, as long as the troops follow the protocol laid out in 2006 when George W. Bush launched Operation Jumpstart -- that they're unarmed and act only in a support capacity to the Border Patrol by fixing vehicles, monitoring surveillance equipment, repairing fences -- I think sending the National Guard is a fine idea. It's just not the magic bullet that the most enthusiastic proponents of the idea would have us believe.

There's only one of those. It involves fining, arresting and prosecuting the employers of illegal immigrants, including people who are, this election year, streaming into fundraisers for McCain, Brewer and other tough-talking Republicans vowing to solve a problem that many of their backers helped create.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.