How Arizona’s Jan Brewer Could Be An Immigration Reform Bellwether

As the face of her state’s crackdown on illegal immigration, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is never far removed from the issue whether she wants to be or not. But she could prove an important test case for Republican efforts led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to sell conservatives on the Senate’s proposal for immigration reform tied to new border security measures.

“I think that it’s wonderful that everybody is coming together in cooperation to find a solution,” Brewer said on CBS’s Face The Nation on Sunday when asked about the Senate bill. “And I’m very, very appreciative of Senator Rubio in stating and encouraging that before anything is done that we have border security established. And then I think we can move forward.”Under the Senate’s plan, state officials in the Southwest like Brewer would be part of a commission designed to oversee the implementation of new procedural, staff, and technological improvements along the border, a prerequisite for newly legalized immigrants to apply for green cards. While senators working on the bill say the commission would not have the ultimate say in declaring the border officially secure, it would raise Brewer and possibly her successor’s national policy profile. She’s taken to TV repeatedly in recent days to complain about the state of border security in Arizona and referee congressional efforts to address it.

“I think that people that are living on the border states ought to have a voice in the decision of whether that border is secure or not,” Brewer said on Fox News’ Your World Cavuto in early February. “So I was very hopeful when it was presented in that likeness in the Senate bill that we have all heard a little bit about, so I thought it was very, very encouraging.”

Brewer has also weighed in on the prospect of a pathway to citizenship, saying she disagrees with any bill that doesn’t force undocumented immigrants to “go to the back of the line” for permanent residency, something she said the White House’s leaked bill did not accomplish. But Rubio (as well as Obama) have made the “back of the line” rhetoric a key part of selling their respective legislation. As a result, it’s not entirely clear how far her opposition extends.

“There’s rules, and they ought to be followed,” she told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto last week. “And because you break the law, you ought not to be excused and give special — and be given special privilege. I think basically that’s the sentiment of the majority of the people in the United States. They can get a work visa. There’s some way they can do it. But the pathway to citizenship by jumping in front of other people and making special conditions I don’t think is going to sell very well.”

In the past, Brewer’s “secure the border first, then we can talk immigration reform” line has been the go-to talking point for Republican politicians looking to avoid discussion of a comprehensive bill that includes a path to citizenship. But Brewer’s interest in Rubio’s plan as a bridge leaves open the possibility she might be won over. An endorsement is probably too much to expect, but anything that keeps a border hawk governor popular with the tea party relatively quiet on a bill would be a victory for the Republicans working on legislation.