1994 Story Foreshadowed Federal Response to SB 1070

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on July 28, 2010

A 1994 story in the Arizona Republic helps explain the frustration with federal immigration authorities that drove passage of Arizona's controversial new law against illegal immigration. The story also includes a statement from a federal official that foreshadows the Justice Department's current insistence that agents are so busy pursuing criminal illegal immigrants that they must not be diverted by reports of people who are merely illegal immigrants.

"The Phoenix office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service investigates fewer than one in 20 reports of illegal-immigrant activity," reporter Mark Shaffer wrote after speaking with agents frustrated with a slipshod INS culture that had created what they called "anarchy in the ranks."

The agents talked with Shaffer in disgust that the INS had refused to pick up 46 illegal immigrants from Mexico who were in a bus stopped (north of Phoenix) for a traffic violation.

The story went on to detail a host of problems within the INS, including low morale, lack of supervision and accountability, and failure of agents to show up for work.

The story appeared at the beginning of the wave of illegal immigration that continues in Arizona to this day. As Shaffer noted, "Illegal immigration into Arizona has increased dramatically in the past year, fueled by increased enforcement in the San Diego/Tijuana and El Paso/Juarez areas."

The story reported that the INS was so weak in its response to reports of smuggling, crime by illegal immigrants, gang violence, and the employment of illegal immigrants that "less than five percent of the estimated 1,500 calls the Phoenix office receives each year about illegal-immigrant activity are investigated."

The INS deputy district director, Patrick Kane, asked for understanding. "Our number one priority is the criminal aliens," he said. "It's like a field with weeds. You go out and pick the big ones that are about to seed."

Kane's explanation is echoed today by the Department of Justice's lawsuit seeking to thwart the new Arizona law. That suit claims the law "will conflict with and undermine the federal government's careful balance of immigration enforcement priorities and objectives" and divert resources from the "dangerous aliens who the federal government targets as its top enforcement priority."