I came to Phoenix to cover the culmination of anti-immigrant law SB 1070, and I ended up in the beginning of it. I sat face to face with the political force behind the law: Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce accepted our interview request.
He said he'd come to us. "Enemy territory," he called it. We waited for two hours in the sweltering heat. I thought for sure he'd be a no-show. He came through, but he made us drive to a tea party rally on his home turf of Mesa. We didn't exactly get a welcoming reception when they found out we were not FOX News.
In the 30-minute interview, we covered a lot of ground on issues related to the law he sponsored.
There were some good points made.
"You know, I am not going to apologize, nor should anyone else apologize for enforcing our laws. Our laws are not as harsh as Mexico's, our laws are not as harsh as most other countries'," he said. "We're very generous, we allow more people legally to come into the U.S. than any other civilized nation combined."
There also were some half-truths.
"There is no racial preference in this bill at all; as you can see, it applies under the Arizona Constitution, and in the U.S. Constitution we have what is called an Equal Protection Clause," he said.
"How do you distinguish them," I asked, "and what does an undocumented immigrant look like?"
"It has nothing to do with looks, it has to do with paperwork," he said. Well, no one believes that Latinos with an accent will not be targeted, regardless of their legal status.
When the interview turned to his Mormon faith, its doctrine and the involvement of undocumented immigrants in the church, the man with the sharp tongue and pointed phrases had nothing to say. Mormon doctrine calls for upholding the law, but it also calls for all humans to be treated as children of God. "I am not going to get into religion," he said.
"There are many undocumented Hispanics in the Mormon Church who are sent out on missions and even serve as bishops," I told him.
"I am not going to get into religion," he said, again and again.
I insisted to Pearce that my question was not about religion but about law enforcement. Under SB 1070, anyone who harbors, aids or transports undocumented immigrants is committing a crime. "Should the Church of Latter-Day Saints also be sanctioned?" I asked.
He was forced to respond: "If they're doing that knowingly, handle them like anybody else. I do not support lawbreakers, I don't care what church they belong to."
From that uncomfortable moment, we went to the outrageous. Do his policies lack compassion? I asked.
"Which compassion? Should we have compassion for child molesters, burglars, rapists?" he asked.
"Is being in this country equivalent to being a rapist or child molester?" I asked.
"It's worse," he claimed.
"Is an undocumented criminal worse than a U.S.-born criminal?"
"Yes, he is," he said. "Those are crimes that should have been avoided. They have no business here, and government is complicit. Government has the blood on their hands for this, for their failure to enforce the law."
I wondered what his motivation was for such an extreme piece of legislation. Because his son was shot by an undocumented immigrant, could this be a personal vendetta?
"Yes," he said. "Who I hold accountable is my government. If government had done its job -- secured the border, enforced the laws -- that wouldn't have happened."
Does Pearce want all 12 million undocumented immigrants rounded up and deported? Not really. His objective in proposing SB 1070 and advising other states on similar legislation is to make life so impossible for undocumented immigrants that they will leave on their own. It's come to be known as "attrition through enforcement."
The consequences of his efforts are being felt across the country.
Salinas is a co-anchor on Univision.
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