It's not a homeownership plan the government will be keen to promote. Two illegal immigrants from El Salvador took possession last week of a 70-acre Arizona ranch as part of a civil judgment against a vigilante leader who allegedly threatened them with a gun when he caught them sneaking into the U.S. in March 2003. The immigrants said the ordeal left them with posttraumatic stress, a condition that seems to be spreading fast on the Mexico-U.S. boundary. To wit: Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano declared a state of emergency last week because, she said, "the Federal Government has failed" to secure the border. Three days earlier, fellow Democratic Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico took the same step, which allows states to release funds for fighting illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
Although California's G.O.P. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called those declarations "a terrific idea," such bipartisan--or even intraparty--consensus is eluding leaders in Congress as they head for a fierce debate over the issue this fall. As border-state Democrats start to shift to the right, bucking many members of their own party, the G.O.P. is split between those who want tougher security first and those who seek comprehensive reform. That split is spelled out in two competing Senate proposals: one sponsored by Texas' John Cornyn and fellow Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona would require illegals to leave the country to apply for work visas and would fund 1,250 more customs and border-patrol agents and $5 billion worth of cameras and sensors along the border. A more lenient bipartisan plan from Arizona's John McCain and Massachusetts' Edward Kennedy would allow illegal immigrants to apply for "guest worker" status without returning home first. That bill is backed by many Democrats, but the AFL-CIO is withholding support.
The White House has yet to indicate a preference, but a number of Republican Congressmen have told the Administration that stronger enforcement is their top priority. House majority leader Tom DeLay says President Bush has admitted recently in private talks that he made a mistake in how he approached the issue at the start of the year and that he will focus more on the problem of illegal crossings, even as he pushes for a guest-worker program. "The message," says Cornyn, "has been gotten." --By Terry McCarthy. With reporting by Perry Bacon Jr. and Nancy Harbert