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Arizona immigration law and illegal immigrants: state of extremes

Where lawmen Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday mowed down outlaws at the O.K. Corral, Arizona immigration law brings its modern brand of western justice to the issue of illegal immigrants.

By Bill Glauber/ Correspondent / May 17, 2010

The US border fence at Nogales, Ariz. symbolizes the nation’s uneasiness with illegal immigration and Arizona's take on modern western justice in dealing with illegal immigrants.

Matt York/AP

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Russell Pearce and Martin Escobar are divided by heritage, history, and a new law that rekindles an old fight about America's borders.

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Mr. Pearce, a fifth-generation Arizonan, is the state senator who introduced the toughest illegal-immigration bill in the nation. The immigration law is so controversial that the nation is asking: What's the matter with Arizona?

" 'Illegal' is not a race," Pearce says. "It is a crime."

Mr. Escobar, born in Mexico and raised in Arizona, is a Tucson police officer who opposes the new law that gives cops broader powers to crack down on illegal immigrants. He is taking the battle to the courts.

"When I saw the law and I read it, I actually never imagined it would get signed," he says. "I saw it as a personal attack on the Hispanic community."

Senate Bill 1070, which takes effect in July, is a historical marker in this ever-changing, ever-growing state of extremes.

You don't like the bill? A lot of Arizonans don't care. Polls show widespread support for it.

The state where lawmen Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday mowed down outlaws at the O.K. Corral now brings its modern brand of western justice to illegal immigration: attrition through enforcement.

After any lawful stop, police can "determine the immigration status" of those they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Proponents say enough is enough, and it's time to crack down on illegal immigration after years of inaction by the federal government. Opponents say the new law will lead to racial profiling.

Depending on your point of view, Arizona's new law is a national model or a national disgrace. And the measure has embroiled many municipalities and organizations in debate over economic boycotts of Arizona.

"You can't break into my country, just like you can't break into my home," Pearce says.

But, says Escobar, "the level of hate and demonizing that is now attributed to the undocumented is unprecedented."

The conflict over immigration has caused people here to take a second look at their home.

What exactly does Arizona stand for, beyond the ever-present sun, golf, and the Grand Canyon?

"Arizona is a land of possibilities," says Marshall Vest, an economist with the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "It's a place where a man can take his family in hopes of making a better life. That has been true all the way back to the 1800s."

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Arizona is home to right-wing republicans, New Age gurus, and vast native American reservations. It is where housing boomed through the 1990s and went bust in the first decade of the 21st century.

It is young – half a million of the state's residents are under the age of 5. And it is old – "active retirement" was born here during the 1960s when Del Webb's Sun City rose in the desert with homes, pools, and golf courses that became magnets for seniors.