Listening to the national uproar, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Arizona has marched into the civil rights apocalypse with its new state law cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Last Friday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070, making it a crime to be in the state illegally and requiring cops, where "reasonable suspicion" exists, to determine a person's legal status.
Rev. Al Sharpton is promising to come to Arizona to march, the New York Times says that the state has gone "off the deep end," and the Nazi references are flying. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony likened SB1070 to "German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques."
Riding the noise for political advantage, President Obama is summoning his Justice Department to look into the matter, saying that the law would "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."
But 70 percent of Arizona residents support the law, according to Rasmussen.
What's going on here? Do we know something the rest of the country doesn't?
Actually, we do. Context is everything, and it'd be nice if the national media provided some, rather than simply slamming Arizona as a redneck haven filled with nativists and bubbas with a hankering for racial profiling.
An estimated 500,000 illegal aliens live in Arizona, and many are decent folks, to be sure. But the border is still wide open, and many more are coming. Last year in Border Patrol's 262-mile-wide Tucson Sector, agents arrested 241,000 illegal aliens, a drop of more than 130,000 from 2007.
It sounds great until you understand that gotaways outnumber arrests by three to one.
Does the country realize this, or have the people bought Janet Napolitano's political fairy tale that border security has been "transformed" from where we were in 2007?
As Obama lectures Arizona, citizens here await his decision on an urgent request to send three thousand National Guard troops to the border. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl recently asked for soldiers, as did Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, to bring some security to American citizens being hammered by cross-border smugglers and thugs.
Here's an important bit of context: This isn't your father's illegal immigration, when polite farm workers offered to do chores in return for some water and a sandwich as they walked north. Today, the drug cartels have taken over the people-smuggling business. They own the trails into the country and dominate the land, the same way urban gangs control neighborhoods
Any group wanting in has to deal with them, and the going rate is $2,500 per person. If you don't have the cash, the cartel coyote will offer to bring you in for free if you carry his dope. As Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever testified to the Senate Homeland Security Committee last week, most of the groups coming up now have a gun behind them.
Along the Chiricahua Corridor smuggling route north and east of Douglas, Arizona, residents have been screaming for some time about break-ins, threats, intimidation, vandalism, and home invasions. But the feds did nothing to keep citizens safe. Instead, they talked amnesty. Then the inevitable happened.
On March 27, Cochise County rancher Rob Krentz was murdered on his land, presumably by a drug smuggler. The death occurred on a well-known drug trail, and trackers followed the killer's prints back into Mexico. He is still at large.
Now, I can't argue with those who say that SB1070 has some provisions that smack of desperation -- such as making it a crime to stop your car to pick up a day laborer or to enter a stopped car to get temporary work. That sounds impossible to enforce.
But critics also say that it will have no impact on besieged residents of southern Arizona, and I disagree. It could help.
We have a huge problem with crooks coming up from Mexico to our cities and towns, committing crimes, and bolting back south of the border. Not long ago, I wrote a story that backtracked the records of two of these border coyotes and found that between them, they'd been arrested and released by either law enforcement or the courts a total of 35 times.
One was let go after a traffic stop, and the other had worked construction in Phoenix for years. If this law had been in effect, the police might've been able to get them off the street before they were able to lead more groups into southern Arizona, break into homes, and frighten citizens.
Civil rights? What about the civil right of American citizens to drive up to their homes at night and have some reasonable assurance that no one is inside?
On March 31, four hundred people gathered outside the one-room Apache School to tell their elected reps what it's like to live in smuggler-occupied territory. The meeting was held there, in the cold, open air, in part because the nearest place to host a group that size inside was seventy round-trip miles away, and these folks didn't feel comfortable leaving their homes for that length of time.
They live by a rule of thumb: If you leave your house empty, it will be occupied by illegals or drug smugglers. We're not talking just about homes five miles from the international line. We're talking about homes up to sixty miles north of the border.
Racial profiling doesn't matter much when you're in a fight to preserve your way of life and keep your family and property safe. Let me give you a different perspective on racial profiling. Now, when Border Patrol chases down and arrests illegals south of I-10, everybody says, "Atta boy. Good police work."
But if these crossers put a toe north of I-10, they're home free. Except for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, nobody is looking for them, and if you do, it's racial profiling.
The farther you get from the line, the more people want to make this problem about race. It's the ground the left wants to fight on because it's so effective. Political correctness shuts people up and keeps the border open.
Arizona has had enough and seen enough. This bill, admittedly flawed, motivated in part by anger and frustration, is an effort to step in and do something about a serious national problem on our southern border that grows more dangerous all the time.
But the national media largely ignore it because it offers up the wrong victims and the wrong politics. They don't send reporters out to Arizona get the story, to walk the smuggling trails, to sit with beleaguered Americans at their kitchen tables and understand the torment their lives have become.
Instead, they adopt the preening pose of the self-righteous, screaming from a safe distance about the bubbas. All 70 percent of them.
It's more fun than context.
Leo W. Banks covers the border for Tucson Weekly.