Russell Pearce

Former Arizona State Senator, Former Member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI)

One of the most outspoken anti-immigrant elected officials at the state level, Russell Pearce was responsible for advancing Arizona’s draconian SB 1070 legislation — the backlash to which ultimately led to his recall.

  • Russell Pearce was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2000 before being elected to the Senate in 2006. Before his time in office, Pearce served under notorious sheriff Joe Arpaio as a deputy in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
  • While in the House in 2004, Pearce was the “architect” of Arizona’s anti-immigrant Proposition 200 measure that passed with the assistance of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
  • In 2007, Pearce was one of the first state legislators to join Darryl Metcalfe’s State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) group. At a press conference announcing his SLLI membership, Pearce stated, “With Democrats in Congress throwing the border gates wide open, Arizona must step up and stop this lawlessness. These open-border pro amnesty liberals don’t have their communities being invaded by drug smugglers, thieves, and gangs.” Other SLLI founding members included Ken Cuccinelli and Kim Thatcher.
  • Also in 2007, Pearce held a press event in Phoenix with representatives from FAIR and a FAIR front group called “You Don’t Speak For Me” regarding anti-immigrant legislation he hoped to get on the ballot for the 2008 election.
  • In 2008, Pearce told NPR, “I will not back off until we solve the problem of this illegal invasion. Invaders, that’s what they are. Invaders on the American sovereignty and it can’t be tolerated.”
  • Pearce worked directly with then-Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) lawyer Kris Kobach to draft SB 1070, an omnibus anti-immigrant law that resulted in multiple lawsuits from civil rights groups and President Obama’s Justice Department, a mass boycott of Arizona and a recall election that Pearce lost. Pearce was the first elected official in Arizona history to be recalled.
  • Pearce spoke at a large anti-immigrant gathering in support of SB 1070 in June of 2010 with Joe Arpaio and others. In fact, Pearce formerly worked as Arpaio’s chief deputy. Arpaio and Pearce have a history of speaking at events together.
  • The harshest provisions of SB 1070 required residents to carry proof of citizenship with them and allow law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they had “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented.
  • In early January 2011, Pearce again teamed up with Darryl Metcalfe and SLLI to announce the introduction of legislation aimed at ending birthright citizenship. Pearce did not attend the press conference but submitted the following comment, “The law is clear, the history is clear, the 14th Amendment is clear; natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens, for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country.”
  • In 2012 following his recall, Pearce became the head of the anti-immigrant group Ban Amnesty Now (BAN). Former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer supported Pearce during his recall election, sending out a fundraising email for him in 2011.
  • In 2014, a law that Pearce introduced back in 2010 automatically denying bail to undocumented immigrants was struck down by the 9th Circuit Court, much to the chagrin of Pearce.
  • Pearce maintained a relationship with known neo-Nazi J.T. Ready. According to the Phoenix New Times, “Ready was a man Pearce mentored for years, supported in a race for the Mesa City Council, groomed for higher political office, and inducted into his faith—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” In 2012, Ready shot and killed his girlfriend, her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, and the couple’s infant child before turning the gun on himself. 
  • In 2006, Pearce sent an email sent an email containing an article from the neo-Nazi group National Alliance to his supporters. The article contained lines like “any racially conscious White person who looks askance at miscegenation or at the rapidly darkening racial situation in America.” Later in the email it attacked the media for pushing “a world in which every voice proclaims the equality of the races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders….”
  • In 2012, the ACLU uncovered a trove of racist emails Pearce sent throughout the years. Those emails contained lines like, “The United States faces the greatest internal threat to its existence since the Civil War. It faces disintegration of its culture; of its language; of its cohesiveness as a nation of free people. It faces massive infusion of unrelenting poverty; of crime; of diseases; of civil violence; of corruption at all levels; and worst of all, the United States faces balkanization that will destroy the fabric of its ability to function as a peaceful nation,” and, “Can we maintain our social fabric as a nation with Spanish fighting English for dominance? It’s like injecting yourself with cancer cells to see what will happen. It’s like importing leper colonies and hoping we don’t catch leprosy. It’s like importing thousands of Islamic jihadists and hoping they adapt to the American Dream.”
  • In 2006, Pearce told a local Arizona radio station, “We know what we need to do. In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower put together a task force called ‘Operation Wetback.’ He removed, in less than a year, 1.3 million illegal aliens. They must be deported.”
  • Pearce has frequently repeated bogus statistics regarding undocumented immigrants. Pearce has claimed that “60% of the homicides in Phoenix involve illegal aliens,” and that “’67 percent’ of law enforcement officers killed in ‘the last few years’ [sic] have been murdered by illegal aliens.”
  • In justifying his goal of ending birthright citizenship, Pearce claimed, “This is an orchestrated effort by them to come here and have children to gain access to the great welfare state we’ve created.”
  • In an interview with NPR in 2010, Pearce said, “People need to focus on the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing our border. It is the Trojan horse destroying our country and a republic cannot survive as a lawless nation.”
  • In 2011, Pearce introduced a bill that would deny the children of undocumented immigrants the right to attend public schools in Arizona. Pearce justified the legislation by stating, “If we’re going to stop this invasion — and it is an invasion — you’re going to have to stop rewarding people for breaking those laws. I make no apology for demanding the taxpayers be protected.”