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It is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who unleashes Pearce's legislative efforts upon Arizona. Typically, local sheriff 's deputies would not be empowered to enforce immigration law, a responsibility specific to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but Arpaio has an agreement with the federal government allowing 160 of his 750 deputies to arrest and detain thousands of undocumented workers. When Pearce passes a sanctions law allowing investigation of businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, Arpaio can show up and begin arresting amusement park employees by the dozen. When Arpaio needs more funding to enforce a state "human smuggling" law aimed at workers themselves, Pearce can arrange it. The sheriff says he has turned over 15,312 men and women to ICE so far.
Pearce and Arpaio may seem like natural allies, but this cozy arrangement follows more than a decade of personal strain between the two public servants. Arpaio has been talking about "illegals" for only a few years. He first became famous for his harsh treatment of prisoners in the mid-1990s when he dressed Maricopa County's inmates in cartoonish black and white striped uniforms, shackled female prisoners in chain gangs, forced male inmates to wear emasculating pink underwear, and fed his charges green bologna. When federal law required that he give each inmate more room but the county refused to grant funds for a new brick-and-mortar jail, Arpaio built an internationally notorious "tent city" with barbed wire and surplus army tents donated by the Pentagon. The sheriff was unworried by the prospect of exposing inmates to 115-degree desert afternoons; if the tents were good enough for U.S. soldiers, he figured, they were good enough for convicts. Today, at the entrance of the still-standing jail, images of American soldiers in Iraq hang over a warning not to complain.
When he first ran for sheriff in 1992, Arpaio vowed not to serve more than four years. Russell Pearce, a decorated former officer with ambitions to succeed Arpaio, agreed to be his chief deputy for a single term; he says he was promised a fast track to the top slot. But Arpaio liked playing chief, and references to his one-term pledge dropped off considerably during his first year in office. Pearce eventually left in 1993, disappointed but unwilling to wait for the immensely popular Arpaio to tire of the job.
According to Pearce, Arpaio's attention-grabbing tent city jail was not the sheriff 's idea but his. It was Pearce who thought to use military surplus left over from Operation Desert Storm, Pearce who "refused to hang a ‘no vacancy' sign on the county jail," Pearce who saved taxpayers millions while keeping them safe. "Sheriff Arpaio ran to be a one-term sheriff, and he changed his mind," he recalls. "In fact, I have an affidavit in my safe where he committed to [serve] one term, and so that was part of the deal, but you know what? I'm not an ego-driven guy, and like I told him, it doesn't matter to me."
The sheriff 's star continued to rise throughout the '90s, fueled not a little by his universally acknowledged yen for publicity. He espoused a militarized version of community policing, greatly expanding an existing network of volunteer posse members and acquiring an army tank to ride during Phoenix parades. He was engaged and unsubtle. But unlike Pearce, Arpaio was not a born border warrior, and he did not become one until public anti-immigration sentiment in the state reached a peak late in 2005.
After leaving the sheriff 's office, Pearce bounced around for a while, serving as the director of the Motor Vehicle Division until Republican Gov. Jane Hull canned him. One of the agency's employees had erased a driving under the influence charge from a woman's records as a political favor, and Pearce took the fall. (His then-20-year-old son Justin also left the division in disgrace, after printing state-issued IDs for his underage friends.) In 2000, Pearce was elected as state representative of Mesa, a conservative, Mormonfounded city east of Phoenix, on a platform of low taxes, strong values, and closed borders.
Four years in, thanks in part to term limits, Pearce managed to position himself as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, giving him crucial leverage over other legislators. He wasn't a publicity hound like Arpaio, but he would gladly stop and talk to anyone about immigration. And Arizona residents were ready to talk. "Russell did what bright lawmakers do: found an issue, made it his own," says Howard Fischer, a Phoenix-based journalist who covers the state legislature for Capitol Media Services. "He built a popular base of support, and he has found a willing audience throughout most of the rest of the state, much the same as the sheriff has found an audience."
Tapping into frustration over crowding, crime, and identity theft, Pearce found resonance in his own district while convincing his state colleagues that their constituencies, too, demanded action on immigration. Public anger was rising, and Republicans who would rather have treated immigration as a federal responsibility found themselves sidelined as Pearce hammered away. In the Arizona Republic, moderates accused the party of running a "dictatorship" and blacklisting dissenters.
Pearce's first important anti-immigration trophies were Proposition 200, a 2004 voter initiative that forced residents to prove their citizenship before registering to vote, and Proposition 103, a 2006 measure establishing English as the official language of Arizona. Prop 200 passed with 56 percent of the vote, and Prop 103 with 74 percent. "There was a lot of dry wood ready to catch fire, and Pearce was a spark," says Rodolfo Espino, an assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University. "Couple that with the failure of comprehensive immigration reform and a housing boom that created a tremendous need for workers."
The Fair and Legal Employment Act, which had faced stiffer opposition, was not, in the end, everything Pearce wanted. His initial proposal would have revoked business licenses on the first, not the second offense; anything less, he suggested at the time, would be "amnesty." But when the slightly less severe act finally passed, the man who had long languished under the shadow of "America's toughest sheriff" suddenly found himself on national news shows, talking up what he liked to call "the nation's toughest immigration law."
Employers or Enforcers?
Sheridan Bailey won't argue with that description. The sanctions law took effect on January 1, so the 64-year-old president of Ironco Enterprises, a steel fabrication firm in Phoenix, axed 30 percent of his work force just before Christmas of 2007. Most had families. One was an iron fitter who "could work circles around any other fitter" in the joint. Another had been in the United States his whole adult life. "He has been here since he was 5," says Bailey, with visible frustration. "He looks and talks—well, not exactly like me, but he's as American as anybody else."
To attract replacement talent, Bailey raised wages for some workers as much as 35 percent, but he says a labor shortage remains the greatest constraint on Ironco's growth. He tried forming a training program that recruited native-born Arizonans for the position of project manager, which pays $75,000 a year. "‘Look,' we said, ‘we'll train you to be welders and fitters; if you're sharp and hardworking, you can become a project manager,' " he recalls. "But none of those guys lasted more than 90 days. They couldn't show up on time. They couldn't park their car in the right place. They couldn't follow direction, so what we learned is you can't just go to recruit young people to do this kind of work."
Bailey turned to Alongside Ministries, an organization that helps ex-convicts find work. He tried U.S. Vets, an organization that helps ex-soldiers who are having trouble adjusting to civilian life. He asked a missionary friend for help recruiting refugees. "No matter what you raise the wages to," he says, "there aren't enough warm bodies." Construction delays are costly, so contractors can't take jobs if they aren't sure they'll have an adequate work force. Unable to find enough capable laborers stateside, Bailey eventually tried outsourcing metalwork—to Mexico.
In 2000, when the last U.S. Census was taken, 20 percent of Arizona workers in construction-related trades were non citizens. While an estimated one in 10 employees in the state are undocumented, the percentage in residential construction, tourism, food service, and commercial construction is much bigger, so that's where the sanctions law is hitting hardest. Mike Sutter, who owns a masonry business in El Mirage, says he "easily" could have doubled his business last year had he not faced a shortage of ready workers. "I can't tell you how many high school career days I have been to," says Sutter. "We offer kids $13 an hour with no experience. That's a good wage. But it's hot out here."