Days after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne filed suit against the federal government for allegedly failing to protect the state from a Mexican “invasion,” the high-profile murder conviction of a Minutemen border vigilante underscores the state’s misguided border priorities.
Earlier this week, a jury found Shawna Forde—leader of the Minutemen American Defense (MAD)—guilty of murdering 8-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul Flores, Jr. during a racially motivated home invasion in 2009. Forde faces the death penalty for orchestrating the robbery and murders.
ColorLines’ Julianne Hing reports that Forde had planned a number of elaborate home invasions to raise funds for her border patrol activities—targeting individuals whom she (erroneously) believed to be drug dealers. Though no drugs were found in the Flores home, Forde—who, incidentally, has close ties to both the Tea Party and the conservative think tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—nevertheless justified Brisenia’s murder on the grounds that “people shouldn’t deal drugs if they have kids.” After watching Forde’s accomplices shoot her mother and kill her father, Brisenia was shot twice in the face.
While Latino advocacy groups have characterized the Flores murders as hate crimes provoked—at least in part—by state leaders’ incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric, many regard Forde’s conviction as one of many indicators that the tables are turning on anti-immigrant politicos like Brewer who have curried political support through fear-mongering and misinformation.
Less tolerance for border vigilantes
As Valeria Fernandez reports at New America Media, the verdict comes just weeks after another Arizona court upheld a decision against rancher Roger Barnett who, in an act of unwarranted border vigilantism, assaulted a group of migrants traveling across his property. Barnett was fined $80,000. While the Forde and Barnett cases are only two incidents of a nationwide rash of anti-Latino crime, their convictions are particularly significant in Arizona, where state leaders have long tolerated and even encouraged border vigilantism as a necessary response to purported border-related violence.
A year ago, state politicians—including Brewer—fomented a national anti-immigrant mania (which handily ushered in SB 1070) by promoting false reports of border violence. As Valeria Fernandez reported at Feet in 2 Worlds last March, lawmakers were quick to attribute the shooting of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz to an unidentified, undocumented Mexican immigrant—though the sheriff in charge of the case later told the press that the prime suspect was not actually Mexican.
Brewer, for her part, gained national notoriety after fabricating tales of beheadings in the Arizona desert—which, as I wrote for Campus Progress at the time—generated support for her anti-immigrant political agenda while diverting public attention away from the reality that most of Arizona’s border violence is directed at immigrants, rather than perpetrated by them.
Arizona’s countersuit against the federal government
Brewer’s recent countersuit against the federal government—which alleges that Arizona is under invasion from the south and that the feds have failed to protect the state accordingly—similarly conjures nativist fantasies of immigrant-fueled border violence. But, as Scott Lemieux posits at TAPPED, the suit idly and transparently villainizes immigrants:
It is (to put it mildly) a stretch to argue that Arizona is undergoing an “invasion.” Illegal immigration does not constitute a military threat or an attempt to overthrow the state government; anti-immigration metaphors are not a sound basis for constitutional interpretation.
Like those propagated by state lawmakers during Arizona’s nativist heyday last spring, this new offensive belies the reality that, while anti-Latino hate crimes have risen by 52 percent nationally in recent years, border crime has been on the decline for quite some time—a fact noted by Alternet’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd in her coverage of the countersuit.
Yet, in an effort to further their extreme, anti-immigrant agenda, Arizona’s nativist lawmakers determinedly maintain the myth that Latin American immigration somehow generates a groundswell of violent crime—even when doing so requires the hasty revision of a rancher’s death, and the callous disregard of an innocent child’s murder.