UPDATE JANUARY 28, 12:00 A.M.: In an Associated Press article posted on The Arizona Republic today, a copy of the letter that Gov. Jan Brewer gave to President Barack Obama ishighlighted and details the immigration laws that Arizona has passed, a subject that the two continue to come to blows over. The letter was presented to Obama upon arrival and during their confrontation Obama brought up his dissatisfaction with how Brewer portrayed him in her book.
President Obama got a tepid greeting and a stern talking-to when he landed in Phoenix, Arizona this week, with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer even wagging her finger at the nation’s president over their differences of opinion on immigration.
And while Arizona tribes generally stay mum on the divisive issue of immigration, one Navajo Nation spokesman says Brewer’s bold stand against the president comes just in time to get Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly out of the hotseat.
The president’s spokesman, Erny Zah, has been fielding calls all week because Shelly said last week that Brewer’s direct style “turns me on.” The widely reported comments have drawn reprimands from council delegates and the public alike. Zah has been maintaining all along that Brewer wasn’t offended by Shelly’s remarks, and he said he now feels vindicated.
“She had no problem telling the President of the United States what she thought,” Zah said. “If President Shelly’s comments had really offended her, what would have stopped her from saying something to Shelly?”
It’s not the first time Brewer and the Obama Administration have come to loggerheads over immigration; Brewer alleged in a lawsuit last fall that the Obama Administration is doing precious little to stem the tide of illegal immigrants across Arizona’s border with Mexico. A U.S. District court dropped the lawsuit in October, but tensions remain.
An excerpt taken from Brewer’s book Scorpions for Breakfast, (published in November of 2011) sheds light on the tensions between the state and the federal government, “The story of SB 1070 is the story of an arrogant, out of control federal government. The people of Arizona watched for years as our border went unenforced, as our schools and hospitals became overwhelmed with poor, desperate illegal aliens, and finally, as violent crime invaded our cities when the Mexican drug cartels took over the border crossings.”
Arizona’s own immigration law, known as SB 1070, stirred intense debate when it passed in early 2010. Critics complain it amounts to racial profiling, especially a controversial provision requiring law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect may be an illegal immigrant. That provision was blocked in federal court a day before the law was to go into effect. It remains blocked today, despite Arizona’s ongoing legal appeals. The case is now awaiting review in U.S. Supreme Court.
“I am fighting Washington to make it do what it's supposed to do. The Constitution is very clear. Article IV, Section 4 imposes on the federal government the duty to ‘protect each state against Invasion, Domestic Violence," she states in Scorpions for Breakfast.
For the most part, Arizona tribes are reticent to talk about the thorny issue of immigration. Several tribes – including Colorado River Indian Tribes, Salt River Pima-Maricopa, the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation and the Tohono O’odham Nation – were contacted for a response to the flare-up between Obama and Brewer, but did not respond. Juana Gyek, communications specialist for the Cocopah tribe near Yuma, Arizona, wrote in an e-mail that, “the tribe will not make comments at this time regarding Arizona immigration issues.”
The Navajo Nation’s Shelly issued a carefully worded statement and asked his spokesman to refrain from elaborating in too much detail.
“I know our Navajo Nation council passed a resolution asking to repeal the law [SB 1070], but it’s a touchy subject for Navajo people,” Shelly stated. “Some want to repeal it and some don’t. My focus right now is on policies we can implement on the Navajo Nation. Immigration is a national issue, but my focus is job creation, protection of our resources and our land.”
Zah added that Navajo people are divided on Arizona’s strict law, especially because some families include in-laws who have come across the border.
“If you support the law, you are anti- some Navajo families,” he explained. “If you don’t, then you’re advocating for some of the illegal immigration.”
Still others recognize that the controversial SB 1070 provision that targets people who may look Mexican can be unfair to Navajos. “If you were to put a non-ethnic person next to a Navajo and a Mexican, we’re going to resemble more of the stereotypical undocumented immigrant,” Zah said.
Finally, there’s the highly important issue of sovereignty, he said: Arizona as a government has a right to put in place a policy that it believes will benefit the state as a whole – just like the Navajo Nation has a right to implement policies that will benefit the Navajo Nation as a whole.”
As most tribal nations side with Obama on the immigration issue, they have still found a way to live with the woman who eats scorpions for breakfast.