- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Progressives in southern Arizona’s Pima County are an unhappy lot. For years, it seems, they have been stuck in a state whose citizenry they view as relatively unenlightened. Take Arizona’s elected officials: For the most part, they favor evenhanded enforcement of federal and state laws. Even those laws pertaining to illegal border crossing.

So, in the spirit of self-determination for oppressed peoples, the liberal “stalwarts” (as Reuters news agency calls them) of “Baja Arizona” are circulating petitions aimed at breaking away from the rest of the state. If successful, this would be the first intrastate secession since West Virginia gained separate admission to the Union in 1863. That, students of history may recall, occurred during a time when the nation was even more divided than Arizona is today.

Reportedly, the leaders of the Baja Arizona liberation front (we’ll call them the BALF for short) are motivated by alarm at the “extreme” agenda of the state’s governor and others. Gov. Jan Brewer and her Republican allies, after all, favor such repressive measures as the provision of actual border security and deliberate enforcement of federal immigration laws. Small wonder that the more sophisticated elements in Pima County prefer the approach of San Francisco and other “sanctuary” jurisdictions where illegal immigrants - in many instances, even those who commit violent crimes - are protected from ill-conceived efforts to detain or deport them.

To be sure, Pima County and Arizona have plenty of illegal immigrants to protect. Just last week, border police found a sophisticated smugglers’ tunnel in Nogales in neighboring Santa Cruz County. It had been chiseled through solid rock and was equipped with lights, water pumps and ventilation along its 250-foot length. It was the eighth tunnel discovered in Nogales since October. A more progressive Baja Arizona could be welcoming to the capital investment and foreign trade opportunities presented by such ventures.


Yet Baja boosters - not to mention border police - must have been confused by President Obama’s speech in nearby El Paso, Texas, where he claimed that his administration has gone “above and beyond” the demands of the Jan Brewers of the world to assure that the border is secure. The president explained, “They wanted a fence. Well, that fence is now basically complete.” He also announced that the Border Patrol has 20,000 agents in the region, saying, “We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history.”

Open-borders advocates may have been relieved to learn that the president was just making that stuff up. Or maybe the 75,000 troops sent to the border region by President Woodrow Wilson about 95 years ago weren’t wearing boots. But count on this: They were sent there to secure our southern border and drive out what was, in effect, a marauding army of invaders led by Pancho Villa. Today’s “boots on the ground” have a “turn back south” program that gives drug smugglers a pass if their load is below a certain weight threshold and gives illegal border-crossers up to seven strikes before they are charged with misdemeanor immigration violations.

What about that fence, you ask? Well, if you’re in favor of an open admissions policy, not to worry. Our president’s Department of Homeland Security reported in February that 649 of the “nearly 2,000 southwest border miles” had fences. Homeland Security claimed in that same report to have achieved “varying levels of operational control” over 873 of those miles. Even if one assumes airtight control - as opposed to “varying levels” - the facts flatly contradict the president’s assertions. Today’s drug cartels, criminal gangs and infiltrating terrorists have plenty of crossing room still.

If the president really sought to achieve border security and not merely to mock his opponents and pander to the open-borders crowd, he could actually create thousands of jobs with a Works Project Administration-style initiative to build a wall that effectively seals the border. He also could actually enforce the federal law and stop his systematic efforts to thwart measured and complementary immigration enforcement efforts by the states. Then we could deal fairly (and firmly, where appropriate) with the large numbers of people in our country unlawfully.

Let’s face it. There is more afoot here than a disagreement about whether to enforce immigration laws. The BALF’s champions have no doubt observed that the Obama administration is waging political and economic war against states that oppose its policies. Arizona is a target of that Obama offensive for its positions on issues ranging beyond immigration. As a new state whose prospective leaders are already proclaiming their opposition to the “extremist policies” of the Arizona governor and legislature, perhaps Baja Arizona sees an opportunity to defect to the winning side in this war of federal aggression.

Consider, after all, that if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) prevails in its effort to block the Boeing Co.’s expansion to South Carolina, that state - and others as well, by implication - will have less ability to attract investment from companies located in the United States than a foreign country. Similarly, Alaska, Louisiana and Virginia have, for example, less ability than Brazil and Cuba to expand exploration and exploitation of oil and natural gas resources. Tens of thousands of jobs and countless millions of dollars in revenue are denied to the economies of those states, which would have more liberty to develop their economies and create jobs if they were independent sovereigns. Arizona, of course, has far less ability than Mexico or even European Union member states to control its own borders.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the NLRB and a horde of other federal agencies seek to exert power over everything from coal mining to cow’s milk, from playground rules for elementary schools to methods of identifying voters at local polling places - all on behalf of an administration that boasts of its intention to reward friends and punish enemies. So, right-to-work states, those that seek to enforce federal and state law evenhandedly, states that take action to deter vote fraud or otherwise oppose administration policies will all suffer.

It is no small wonder that Baja Arizona wants to ally itself with the federal imperium. Far better that the concept of limited federal government be restored through the electoral process so states willing to expand their economies and enforce their laws can do so without politically motivated interference.

Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.