Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Under attack, Arizona Governor comes out swinging

A controversial new anti-immigration law in Arizona will not be enforced until later this month, but it has already launched the state governor to the centre of the country's raging debate over how to deal with illegal migrants.

Arizona Governor Janice Brewer has become the unlikely focal point of the U.S. immigration battle after signing into law Bill 1070 in April, giving police powers to question suspects about their status while investigating other crimes, and making it illegal to employ or transport anyone who is not a U.S. citizen.

The law, considered the strictest response yet to illegal immigration in the country, has seen the 65-year-old governor accused of instigating racial profiling and the harassment of Latino residents of the state.

Story continues below advertisement

Artists including Kayne West have vowed to avoid the state until the law is repealed, and other cities across the country have voted to boycott business with Arizona.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama has called the law "misguided," and Ms. Brewer will be met by protesters when she arrives in Boston this weekend for the National Governors Association Meeting.

But the outcry seems only to have empowered Ms. Brewer, whose poll numbers at home have surged since the bill's passing and who is already being mentioned in Tea Party circles as a possible Republican presidential candidate for 2012.

On Tuesday, she released a fiery statement responding to a lawsuit launched by the U.S. Justice Department against her state, attempting to overturn the new law as unconstitutional.

"As a direct result of failed and inconsistent federal enforcement, Arizona is under attack from violent Mexican drug and immigrant smuggling cartels," Ms. Brewer said. "Now, Arizona is under attack in federal court from President Obama and his Department of Justice."

She vowed to fight all legal challenges, and defended the law as both constitutional and necessary.

The former Arizona secretary of state took office in 2009, when Democrat Janet Napolitano was named to Mr. Obama's cabinet as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Story continues below advertisement

But her newness to the job does not seem to be affecting her nerve.

She recently cancelled an annual meeting of U.S. and Mexican governors from states along the shared border, after the Mexican politicians refused to come to Phoenix because of the state law.

In a letter to her Mexican counterparts, she expressed her "unwavering" belief in the bill, and blamed "myths" for creating fear about its impact on Latino Americans.

The bill is not her first foray into the immigration issue.

In 2004, as secretary of state, she implemented a ballot initiative requiring Arizonans to show proof of citizenship before registering to vote.

Despite her immigration stand, she has alienated some of her conservative supporters. Just two months into her tenure, she requested a 1 per cent sales tax increase to help combat the state's $4-billion budget deficit, a move that caused some critics to question her conservative credentials.

Story continues below advertisement

The state's third consecutive female governor, Ms. Brewer was born in California, and moved to Arizona in 1970 with her husband, chiropractor John Brewer.

After a brief stint at community college, she gave birth to three boys, and became politically active when she began attending school board meetings.

She was soon considering a run for office and decided to bypass the school board and head straight for the Arizona House of Representatives, to which she was elected in 1983. She entered the state senate in 1987.

After serving as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for six years, she was elected in 2003 as Secretary of State on a conservative, anti-abortion platform, by a margin of 23,000 votes.

Although she had once argued that the secretary of state should not be second in line for the governor's office, and even attempted to create legislation altering the chain of command, this is how she took over for Ms. Napolitano in 2009.

Since then, she has demonstrated a stark about-face for the state. She signed an executive order repealing legislation by her predecessor that would have provided insurance coverage to the same-sex partners of state employees.

And her passionate defense of Bill 1070 has launched her onto the national scene.

She was invited to the White House in June to meet personally with Mr. Obama, who promised to send more national guard members to patrol the Arizona border.

But in a recent video posted online, she mocked the result of the meeting:

"Washington is broken, Mr. President. Do your job. Secure our borders," she said. "Arizona and the nation are waiting."

A recent poll by Rasmussen put her just five points behind Mr. Obama in a hypothetical presidential race.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to