When you live in Arizona all your life, as my family has for five generations, your state's border with Mexico becomes more than a line in the dirt. The Arizona-Mexico border represents a gateway to business, an entryway for people and a potential pathway to economic opportunity. Left unprotected, however, this 370-mile stretch also represents a source of real and present danger to Arizonans and fellow Americans.
In October, sheriffs of 10 Arizona counties stood together to call out the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder over the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-running operation. According to these law enforcement officials, the federal government has abdicated its basic responsibility to enforce the rule of law on the border. Like these sheriffs, Arizonans recognize the Arizona-Mexico border as a sieve, a shadowy criminal underworld ruled more by Mexican drug cartels, human smugglers and fear than by our own government.
The federal government's abandonment of its responsibility is so alarming and frustrating, our state was compelled to pass Senate Bill 1070, legislation meant to give Arizona law enforcement the power to do what the feds have refused to do: Stop the steady flow of illegal immigrants into our state. Instead, President Obama, Holder and the Administration have spent time, energy and countless legal resources trying to stop SB 1070 itself, as opposed to stopping the traffic of illegal immigrants into Arizona.
A porous border threatens our safety, curtails our quality of life, and diminishes the economic opportunity of hardworking Americans. It cheats taxpayers who must shoulder higher costs for the education, health care and incarceration of illegal immigrants. An unprotected border creates a shadow labor pool that undercuts wages in certain industries, benefiting some businesses at the expense of those who play by the rules. A truly secure border would mean the beginning of the end for all of the above.
The Obama Administration and Congress must stop allowing guns into Mexico and instead commit federal resources to real border security. These critical steps can lead to a more secure border: Activate National Guard troops to ensure manpower where it's needed, increase drone surveillance, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters patrolling the border, increase Border Patrol resources, fulfill the federal government's funding responsibility for local and state governments to incarcerate illegal aliens, fully fund Operation Streamline, a proven deterrent in reducing illegal traffic and build an effective fence - both steel and virtual - to ensure that the border between our two countries is more than a line in the dirt.
Enforced border security is the critical first step towards tackling illegal immigration. All other solutions to this complex set of problems - like the expansion of the e-Verify system to prevent illegal hiring - stem from this one vital mission: We must protect the border to ensure order and the rule of law, a stark contrast to today's chaos and illegality.
As an Arizona businessman, one common sense rule has served me well: You can't solve all the problems unless you solve the biggest problem first.
What works for us in the real world will work to address illegal immigration, too, if only Washington has the wisdom and the courage to act decisively.
• Wil Cardon is a Mesa businessman and president of the Cardon Companies. He is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012.