Bio & archive  |  Milbank Q&As  |   On Twitter   |    RSS Feed

Headless bodies and other immigration tall tales in Arizona

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Ross D. Franklin - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Dana Milbank
Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jan Brewer has lost her head.

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded," she announced on local television.

Ay, caramba! Those dark-skinned foreigners are now severing the heads of fair-haired Americans? Maybe they're also scalping them or shrinking them or putting them on a spike.

But those in fear of losing parts north of the neckline can relax. There's not a follicle of evidence to support Brewer's claim.

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona's border counties, and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer's press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer's mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world's No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they've had to step in because federal officials aren't doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Last year gave us death panels and granny killings, but compared with the nonsense justifying the immigration crackdown, the health-care debate was an evening at the Oxford Union Society.

Two months ago, the Arizona Republic published an exhaustive report that found that, according to statistics from the FBI and Arizona police agencies, crime in Arizona border towns has been "essentially flat for the past decade." For example, "In 2000, there were 23 rapes, robberies and murders in Nogales, Ariz. Last year, despite nearly a decade of population growth, there were 19 such crimes." The Pima County sheriff reported that "the border has never been more secure."

FBI statistics show violent crime rates in all of the border states are lower than they were a decade ago -- yet Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reports that the violence is "the worst I have ever seen." President Obama justifiably asserted last week that "the southern border is more secure today than any time in the past 20 years," yet Rush Limbaugh judged the president to be "fit for the psycho ward" on the basis of that remark.

Without question, illegal immigration and Mexican drug cartels are huge problems. And there is a real danger that the alarming and growing violence in Mexico could spread north. But beyond anecdotes -- the slaying of a rancher and the shooting of a sheriff's deputy -- there is no evidence that it has.

Yet there is McCain -- second only to Brewer in wrecking Arizona tourism -- telling NBC, ABC and CNN that Phoenix is the "No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world," behind only Mexico City. "False," judged Politifact, tracing McCain's claim to a dubious report by ABC News in February 2009. Law-enforcement agencies generally don't track foreign kidnapping statistics, but experts said rates are far higher in various Central American, African and Asian countries. Reports of kidnapping in Phoenix, meanwhile, are declining.

Next, there's Brewer's claim that "the majority" of people immigrating illegally "are coming here and they're bringing drugs, and they're doing drop houses and they're extorting people and they're terrorizing the families. That is the truth." No, it isn't. The Border Patrol's Tucson Sector has apprehended more than 170,000 undocumented immigrants since Oct. 1, but only about 1,100 drug prosecutions have been filed in Arizona in that time.

The claim that illegal immigrants are behind most killings of law-enforcement personnel is also bunk. Arizona state Sen. Sylvia Allen claimed that "in the last few years 80 percent of our law enforcement that have been killed or wounded have been by an illegal." A Phoenix police spokesman told the Arizona Republic's E.J. Montini that the real figure for such killings is less than 25 percent, and that there are no statistics on the wounding of officers.

So what is this "terrible border security crisis" that Brewer says has only "gotten worse"? She complained recently to Fox News's Greta Van Susteren about the Obama administration's handling of the border: "They haven't did [sic] their job."

But really the person who hasn't did her job is Brewer. She should screw her head back on and start telling Americans the truth.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity