Republican governor knows she can still count on voters despite legal setback

It wasn't all bad news for Jan Brewer, the hard-knuckle governor of Arizona who has taken ownership of the state's attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, and therefore managed to turn herself into one of the best-known players in a snowballing political debate that has polarised America.

Yes, the signature legislation she had oh-so publicly signed back in April has now been thrown into legal limbo. Yes, she has turned Arizona's good name into a byword for knee-jerk right-wingery, sparking a trade boycott which has cost the state tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in lost trade and tourism and united major US cities with the governments of Mexico, Argentina and Ecuador in steely condemnation.

And yes, she has found herself at odds with almost all the major organisations involved in the civil rights movement, together with public figures such as the Rev Al Sharpton, the singer Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas, and what seems like half of Hollywood.

But Governor Brewer, a Republican facing a re-election battle before November's elections, knows that the only statistic that really counts is the one in the polls. And roughly 60 per cent of Arizonans support Senate Bill 1070, the tough law which aimed to combat illegal immigration. Their backing has been enough to give her a record 20 per cent lead over her Democratic rival, Terry Goddard.

Although she is widely despised by the Latino community, who make up 30 per cent of the state's 6.5 million residents, Ms Brewer knows that their turnout at elections is historically tiny.

Meanwhile the white community feels besieged by a Latino community which is accused of failing to integrate or learn English (many billboards in Phoenix's poorer neighbourhoods are in Spanish). Immigrants are widely accused of committing crimes, taking up places in public schools, and using free hospital beds.

Ms Brewer tapped into this sentiment, blaming migrants for a wave of violence. "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded."

That surprised the police and border patrol agencies. They have yet to record a single immigration-related beheading. Ever. In fact, violent crime in Arizona is at a 20-year low.

And though Ms Brewer talks of a "terrible crisis" affecting her state, official estimates suggest that the number of undocumented workers has fallen since 2008.

It nonetheless suits the governor and her Republican-dominated state senate to keep the issue bubbling away. She has declared that the injunction was "just a bump in the road," and she would appeal against it.

However it will take weeks, and possibly months, for her to even get a hearing. If the case makes its way to the Supreme Court, it could take years. "Jan Brewer played politics with immigration, and she lost," was how her opponent Mr Goddard put it yesterday.

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