Inside the Oval Office on Thursday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer went head-to-head with President Obama as she demanded he take more steps to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and they failed to make headway on the state’s tough new immigration law.
Several hundred yards away, outside the White House gates, dozens of immigration rights protesters denounced Arizona’s new immigration law and chanted, “Jan Brewer, shame on you.”
In signing her state’s law cracking down on illegal immigrants in April, Mrs. Brewer instantly brightened her political fortunes in Arizona, angered Hispanic voters nationwide and became the focal point for the resurgent bitter immigration debate.
“I feel very confident about what we have done in the past. It was the right thing to do,” Mrs. Brewer told reporters after her meeting at the White House. “I believe that we are protecting the people of Arizona, and beyond that, I believe we’re protecting the people of America.”
The Oval Office meeting gave Mrs. Brewer her biggest stage yet as she argues that the federal government has failed in its job of policing the borders.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Brewer agreed to try to deepen cooperation on the president’s plan to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, but found little other common ground.
Mrs. Brewer said she requested construction on more fencing, and the White House said Mr. Obama asked her to try to persuade Republicans to support the president’s push to pass a legalization bill for illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Brewer were careful about discussing Arizona’s crackdown that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they encounter in the course of a stop or check who they suspect might be in the country illegally. Mr. Obama has ordered his administration to consider challenging the law as a violation of civil rights. Mrs. Brewer said the president told her he wouldn’t get into the details of his objections but would let the Justice Department conduct the review and make the final decisions on legal action.
“She’s got a point of view that you have to do border security first. The president has a view that we have to have comprehensive immigration reform,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters when asked whether any progress had been made.
Outside the White House were about 80 protesters who chanted slogans against Mrs. Brewer and the Arizona law. Some of them had T-shirts that read: “Do I look ‘illegal’?”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading immigration advocacy group, said he doubted any progress would come from the Oval Office meeting.
“They’re playing to different audiences. She’s running for re-election, and he’s trying to solve the immigration issue,” Mr. Sharry said.
He said Mrs. Brewer is following the path trod by California Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1990s. Mr. Wilson, a Republican, rode to re-election in 1994 after pushing Proposition 187, which also required police to check the immigration status of those they arrested and tried to restrict government services to citizens and legal immigrants.
Mr. Wilson won re-election, but Republicans have suffered among California’s Hispanic voters ever since.
Mr. Sharry said Republicans should be wary this year, especially in Arizona, which has a large Hispanic population.