MESA, Ariz. — One minute, Glenna Twing talks about the immigrant residents of the apartment buildings she manages with the warmth typical of Arizona's business-friendly conservatives who cherish immigrant labor. Her tenants, Twing says, are in the country legally and "are hardworking business entrepreneurs who are trying to make a living and contribute back to society."
Another minute, the 60-year-old Arizonan expresses the frustration that has made the state the epicenter of the national backlash against illegal immigration. She refers to the people on downtown streets who she presumes are undocumented with disgust in her voice: "They're standing on the corner, trying to be picked up for day jobs."
With one of every two unauthorized crossings into the U.S. occurring along the 350-mile Arizona-Mexico border, the state might be expected to offer a clear view on the thorny issue of illegal immigration.
Yet the area's sun-splashed shopping centers and subdivisions harbor surprising shades of gray on the issue -- an ambivalence that underscores why Congress has been unable to agree on a new immigration policy.
Arizona's voters approved a ban on benefits for illegal immigrants in 2004, but also express support for pro-immigrant initiatives.
Elected officials are scrambling to prove they are tough on illegal immigration, even as the largely Republican congressional delegation is evenly divided between hard-line and immigrant-friendly proposals being considered in Washington. In Mesa, the two Republican congressmen whose districts divide the city are on opposite sides of the issue.
"The public is quite confused over which way to go," said Earl de Berge, a nonpartisan Arizona pollster.
Last year, House Republicans bucked President Bush's call for a guest-worker program and passed a bill to make all illegal immigrants felons and erect a fence along the Arizona-Mexico border. The GOP-controlled Senate is taking up an alternative proposal that would allow many illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S.
"The split in Arizona reflects the divide in the Republican Party over immigration," said Marshall Wittman, who works for the Democratic Leadership Council in Washington, D.C.
Wittman, formerly an aide to Arizona's Republican Sen. John McCain, said that "immigration is to the Republican Party what trade is to the Democratic Party. It's an issue that splits [the party] and doesn't follow along predictable ideological lines."
Pollsters regularly turn up contradictions in popular sentiment. In one Arizona State University poll last year, 57% of respondents backed the vigilante Minutemen patrolling the border. At the same time, 62% supported an administration-proposed guest-worker program to bring more migrants north -- and 54% backed the program even if it meant allowing some to become permanent residents.
"Everybody's against illegal immigration, but then you ask the follow-up question about what should be done about it, and there's a huge range of opinions," Gov. Janet Napolitano said in an interview. The divide among politicians, she added, "matches public opinion."
Still, Napolitano, a Democrat who has opposed many hard-line efforts on illegal immigration, has steered right on the issue. In January, she called for stationing the National Guard on the border.
Some activists point to the governor's shift as evidence that the public is far less divided on the issue than the state's political elite is.
"All of a sudden, she's become the immigration governor," said Randy Pullen, a member of the Republican National Committee and an activist against illegal immigration. "That's because they have the same polling as the Republican Party does."
Mesa, an economically diverse city of about 400,000 that has been swallowed into the spread of stucco marching east from Phoenix, is a microcosm of the crosscurrents that have pulled Arizona's politicians in divergent directions on the issue.
The city is 80% white, and 8% of its residents are not U.S. citizens, according to the Census Bureau. The familiar pattern of ranch homes and malls defines most of the town, but in areas near its slightly older downtown, increasing numbers of day laborers linger on the streets.
The two Republican congressmen -- Rep. J.D. Hayworth and Rep. Jeff Flake -- whose districts divide the city, occupy opposite poles of the debate.
Hayworth recently published a book on the perils of illegal immigration, whose title, "Whatever It Takes," sums up his views on the matter. He wants the U.S. military on the border, the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country deported, and the 14th Amendment changed so immigrants can no longer cross the border to have their babies born U.S. citizens on American soil.
"The problem we're having is that most of official Washington views this as a political problem to be managed, rather than an invasion to be stopped," Hayworth said in an interview.