WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama received Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in the Oval Office on Thursday, but the two made no progress in bridging the enormous gulf that divides them – and the country – over illegal immigration and border security.
Brewer, who recently signed a controversial law requiring Arizona police to check the status of people they suspect are illegal immigrants, wants more federal resources – including troops, helicopters, aerial drones and fences – devoted to controlling her state’s border with Mexico.
She said she got no commitments from Obama other than a promise of better communication.
“I am encouraged that there is going to be much better dialogue between the federal government and the state of Arizona now,” she told reporters outside the White House.
In a nod to those seeking more enforcement, Obama last week promised to spend an additional $500 million and send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border.
The president believes, however, that enforcement should accompany a comprehensive change in immigration law. He supports the latest Democratic version of such a bill, which requires a tamper-proof Social Security card, a temporary worker program for foreigners and a path to legalization for the 11 million immigrants already here. Such steps, backers say, are designed to close down the market for undocumented labor that draws people to cross the border illegally.
Brewer and other Republicans say they can’t support immigration reform until the border is more tightly controlled.
Brewer, a Republican who is up for re-election, has repeatedly said that her state is “under siege” from border crime, but statistics don’t bear her out. Crime rates are stable or down along the U.S. side of the border, even as an epidemic of drug-related murders has racked the Mexico side.
“Crime is down in Arizona,” Brewer acknowledged in an interview with CNN’s John King. “(But) the fact of the matter is, if you’re living in Arizona and you are living in the areas that are severely impacted, you are faced with it on a daily basis.”
It is true that certain types of crime, particularly kidnappings and robberies among those involved with illegal drugs, have increased in recent years, said Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney for Arizona.
Brewer said Obama declined to discuss whether the Justice Department will challenge the constitutionality of the Arizona law, which the president has said could lead to racial profiling.
“That was kind of brushed over a little bit,” she said.
Several polls have shown that a majority of Americans support the law. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University from May 19-24 found that 51 percent of Americans approve of the law while 31 percent disapprove.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has argued that the Southwestern border is as secure as it’s ever been, a position echoed by former Bush administration officials such as Thad Bingel, former chief of staff of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.