[This review was published in the Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp.  269-274.]


Book Review


Scorpions for Breakfast

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

Broadside Books, 2011


          The title of this book is appropriate.  Someone blogging on a web site set up to support Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in her fight against illegal border crossings into her state described her appropriately, saying “Jan Brewer eats scorpions for breakfast.”  It’s a description that brings to mind a not-very-pleasant part of desert wildlife in a beautiful state, but that befits her toughness and readiness to stand up to the “scorpions” of politics and cultural conflict.  Her book centers on two things: the predicament Arizona has been in because of illegal immigration, and the often strident opposition she has run into from President Obama and his administration and from the diverse groups that welcome the cross-border influx.

          Brewer has a long history in Arizona politics.  She was first elected to the State House of Representatives in 1982, and then to the State Senate, before twice winning election as Arizona’s Secretary of State.  She explains that Arizona has the unusual  procedure that the Secretary of State (rather than a lieutenant governor) takes the office when a serving governor steps down, which is why she became governor in January 2009 when Janet Napolitano left to take her place in the Obama administration as Secretary of Homeland Security.  Brewer was elected governor in her own right (by a landslide) in November 2010.

          Arizona’s predicament has many faces.  Illegal immigration into the United States has been ongoing for many years, but it was exacerbated for Arizona, a state located inland along the border with Mexico, when in the early 1990s the federal government “made the conscious decision to redirect illegal aliens east from San Diego and west from Texas by shoring up the border in those two locations.” The result is that now “Arizona is the site of the most illegal crossings.”  Brewer tells the magnitude: “In 2009… the Border Patrol caught more than 550,000 illegal aliens [entering Arizona], and over 240,000 of these apprehensions occurred in the Tucson sector.”  She adds that “the Border Patrol estimates that it apprehends only one in four illegal border crossers.”  This influx is not limited to Mexicans; Brewer says “the organized crime and drug and human smuggling rings that control the flow… are global operations, bringing illegal crossers from all over the world into Mexico and then funneling them through Arizona to destinations in virtually every state….”

          From this, we see that the immigration is no longer just, or even primarily, of individuals fleeing north, assisted by small enablers.  It has been taken over by the drug cartels and other smuggling rings.  “Mom-and-pop smuggling operations have largely been replaced by cold-blooded, high-stakes, organized criminal gangs.” The result is that many of those entering carry automatic weapons; the gangs war among themselves for control of the trade; those smuggled in are made to serve as “reluctant drug mules” with heavy backpacks full of drugs taped to their bodies; hundreds of “drop houses” are set up to hold the immigrants in Phoenix and elsewhere, sometimes as prisoners held for ransom to be paid by their relatives in Mexico and the United States; “spotters” occupy mountains, often living for months at a time “in primitive caves called ‘spider holes’”; and “since 2001, the bodies of more than 2,100 men, women, and children have been found in the Arizona desert.”  The flow of people results in “tremendous environmental damage… In 2006 alone, over a million pounds of trash was [sic] picked up along the Arizona border.”  There are “mountains of water bottles, backpacks, food wrappers, used diapers, and human excrement.”

          Brewer continues describing the impact on her state. “Violent crime [has] invaded our cities.” (This is in addition to the murder of a popular rancher on his spread next to the border, a murder that was especially shocking to Brewer and many other Arizonans.)  A consequence is that “the cost of incarcerating the criminals is astronomical,” with the Arizona Department of Corrections locking up “some 6,000 criminal aliens” at a “cost to the Arizona taxpayers [of] approximately $150 million every year.”  Approximately half of the border crossers lack a high school education.  Federal law requires hospital emergency rooms to “provide treatment… to anyone, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay the bill,” with the result that “between 2001 and 2005, emergency room visits for outpatient care spiked by 46 percent in Arizona while they increased by only 8 percent nationally.” There are Internet sites advising the immigrants about how they can get this care, which costs Arizona and other states millions of dollars.  Further, there is the cost of educating the immigrants’ children: “According to the Pew Center, as many as 170,000 Arizona students… have parents who are illegal aliens.”  (As a sign of the condonation that exists among those who welcome the collapse of the border, it is noteworthy that until as late as 2010, one Arizona school district even bussed students in from Mexico to attend public schools in a town 40 miles north of the border.)  Taking everything into consideration, Brewer says, “the total expense to Arizona taxpayers of illegal immigration in FY [fiscal year] 2011 [was] about $1.6 billion.”  After the approximately $670 million the immigrants paid in taxes, this left a net cost of “almost $1 billion.”  The state budget for all purposes is $8.5 billion.

          What would Brewer do about all this?  She looks upon the talk about “comprehensive immigration reform” as a code name “for encouraging more illegal immigration by letting those already in the country illegally jump the line.”  In light of the urgency of Arizona’s situation, she insists on “securing our border first and then – and only then – figuring out how to fix our broken immigration system.”  (At several points, she says she is a strong proponent of legal immigration, which she sees as consistent with the “rule of law”; but in this book she never explores what sort of, or how much, legal immigration she favors.)  Above all, she wants the federal government, which has the responsibility under Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution “to protect each state against Invasion and… domestic violence,” to “do its job.”  In the absence of federal action, she has been a strong proponent of the measures Arizona has taken.

          The best known of the measures is Senate Bill 1070, which she signed into law in April 2010.  Brewer explains it as “simply enforcing federal law.”  When the Obama administration argues in court that federal law “preempts” such an effort by a state, she argues that it is inconsistent for them to refuse to carry out federal law and at the same time assert that its presence preempts state action.  And when the administration argues that state laws on immigration will create an undesirable “patchwork,” she points to the “double standard” that sees no problem with several cities having declared themselves “sanctuary cities” (in violation of federal law rather than seeking to enforce it).  We can note that in the United States, it is not unexpected that lower federal courts will often block laws enacted by state legislatures or by public referenda; and that is what has happened so far with SB1070.  The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case by granting a Writ of Certiorari [an order granting permission to bring a case before it].

          SB1070 has become the focus of contentious debate in the United States.  It has more than one part.  The best known is one that, as Brewer explains “allows (but does not require) a law enforcement officer who is in the course of making a valid stop such as a traffic violation to inquire about a person’s legal status – but only if the individual’s behavior and circumstances provide ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the person is here illegally.”  The law bars “racial profiling,” but Brewer says “reasonable suspicion” can arise from such circumstances as an overloaded vehicle (since smugglers characteristically pack immigrants tightly into cars and trucks), or the stop’s being on a highway that is a highly-travelled smuggler route, or if no one in the vehicle is able to show any identification.  In other provisions, SB1070 puts “a ban on hiring day laborers on public streets and public places,” and prohibits transporting illegal aliens. 

SB1070 is not the only Arizona legislation.  In 2004, voters approved a ballot initiative requiring identification to vote.  A law enacted in 2007 makes employers use the federal “E-Verify” system to check on the legal status of people being hired.  This law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2011.  After receiving information that “La Raza Studies[1] teachers” were indoctrinating students, Brewer signed a bill to “cut funds to school districts with ethnic studies programs that teach race hatred or the overthrow of the U.S. government.”

Much of the book recounts how besieged Brewer has been by the stridency of the opposition to each of the measures Arizona has adopted.  Part of this stridency has come from President Obama.  She  writes that his “administration had done nothing to work with us to secure the border.  In fact, his administration had ignored our requests for help again and again.”  She wrote letters to the President that went unanswered, and when she requested a meeting with Obama, the request was ignored.  She says that when finally he did consent to a meeting, the result was that he lectured her.   “President Obama has repeatedly made fun of those of us who want to see the law enforced, saying we want a ‘moat’ with ‘alligators’ in it around the country.” And she charges him with misrepresenting the content of SB1070.

Congress passed a law “to help the states defray the costs” of incarcerating illegal alien criminals, but Brewer reports that “I have –unsuccessfully so far – constantly begged the Obama administration to deliver to Arizona taxpayers the more than $880 million it owes us” [for incarceration costs].  She cites as further evidence of the administration’s posture the fact that although 45% of the illegal aliens in the United States are people who have overstayed their visas, less than 1% of the 200,000 such people in 2009 were “tracked down and deported.”  In fact, instead of tightening the system, the administration has liberalized its granting of tourist visas to Mexicans.

Other stridency, she says, comes from those outside government who want an open border.   Brewer speaks of “torrents of accusations raining down on our heads.  Manning the buckets [are] the national media, the unions, civil rights groups, business groups, and political operatives….”  Labor unions “issued calls for a massive campaign of nonviolent ‘civil disobedience all over Arizona and all over the United States.’”  She expresses deep appreciation for Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s having ignored a call by the players’ union for a boycott of Arizona.  Professional basketball “hastened to jump on the bandwagon, with the players on the Phoenix Suns wearing jerseys expressing “solidarity with Arizona’s Hispanic population.”

It’s worth noting that Brewer does not consider herself an adversary of Arizona’s lawfully-present Latino population; rather, her opposition is to the illegal immigration and its effects.  At a number of places in her book, she voices an expansive mentality (and there are those who will find reason to differ with her on aspects of this).  This mindset consists of punctiliously opposing any “racial profiling,” of urging her readers “not to blame ordinary Mexicans,” and of supporting (and seeing considerable value in) legal immigration.  While she complains rather bitterly about President Obama’s behavior, she makes it clear that even though she is a Republican she sees that “the failure to secure our border has been a bipartisan problem in America for decades now.  Both Republicans and Democrats can be faulted….”

Scorpions for Breakfast is a short book, told in a straight-forward, non-technical narrative.  It should be given a high priority by those wanting to explore the differing sides of the immigration issue.


                                                                      Dwight D. Murphey     



[1]   “La Raza” is Spanish for “the race.”  Brewer says that “one former Tucson history teacher reported that the focus of La Raza Studies was to teach students that ‘Mexican-Americans were and continue to be victims of a racist American society….’”