Arizona law leaves divisive legacy
Sergio Paez says Arizona's immigration law has hurt his tortilla business.
April 25th, 2012
07:53 AM ET

Arizona law leaves divisive legacy

The past few years haven’t been the best for a man trying to make an honest living selling tortillas in Arizona. Business owner Sergio Paez estimates that he has lost 20 businesses as customers in the past three years, from small neighborhood taquerias to chain restaurants.

In 2010, his tortilla business was suffering thanks to the nationwide recession. Then Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law the state's controversial immigration enforcement policy known as SB 1070, and things got even worse, he said.

“The law affected the immigrant population dramatically,” said Paez, a naturalized citizen from Mexico whose Phoenix-area factory produces about 200 dozen tortillas an hour.

“The economy had already been going down with the housing crisis construction stopped, people were losing homes, jobs, cars. That triggered the recession, but I think this law aggravated it here.”

With oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court set for Wednesday in the Obama administration’s constitutional challenge to the law, the outcome will have far-reaching implications for Arizona and other states that have implemented similar policies since 2010.

But critics of Arizona’s law believe the damage has been done. Aside from its economic impact, they say, the law has torn apart families, divided communities and sown distrust of law enforcement. Moreover, there’s a fair share of fatigue over the subject, with some saying the battle over 1070 has distracted attention from far more serious issues facing the state.

Not everyone perceives the effects as negative. If undocumented immigrants are leaving the state in fear, then the law is working, said Phoenix resident Ana Gaines. She also said crime rates are down, citing county attorney statistics that CNN was unable to immediately verify.

The broader impact of the law resides in the message it sends by its very nature, said Gaines, who has become the public face of the law's supporters.

“I love this country and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. But I would never want to be here illegally,” said Gaines, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico. “This law tells people that Arizona does not welcome illegals, plain and simple. You can come at your own risk or go somewhere else.”

Exact numbers of people who have left the state because of the law are hard to come by, but both camps know it’s happening. By now, it’s a familiar narrative: Fearing persecution by law enforcement, many Hispanics, both legal and undocumented, stayed in their homes. Businesses, especially those that catered primarily to the Hispanic community, took a hit. People fled the state  some to prevent their families from being torn apart, others in search of work.

Mario, 20, is an undocumented immigrant whose parents brought him to Arizona from Mexico when he was 2. Shortly before SB 1070 took effect in July 2010, his parents sold most of their possessions, packed his two younger siblings into their Chevy Tahoe and moved to Texas. Also undocumented, they were afraid of being arrested and deported. Mario insisted on staying, refusing to run from the place he considered home.

“If it happens in Arizona, who says it won’t happen in Texas? If you run away from one state then maybe another state will catch on to that. If all 50 of them get together, maybe they’ll run us out of the country,” he said. “Leaving the country would be leaving my home and I believe that I am an American.”

Times have been tough since his family left, Mario said. Without enough money to support himself, he bounces around the homes of friends, dividing his time between work and school, which he pays for in full because he can’t apply for financial aid.

But he’s lonely without his family and he wonders if he did the right thing by peeling away from them.

“I hope they don’t have a grudge against me, because sometimes I feel like I didn’t stick with them when they were in fear. I looked out for my own personal gain and not what’s better for the family on the whole,” he said. “I hope they understand that I’m standing for what I believe in, my right to stay in my home.”

The law’s critics will tell you they’re not “pro-illegal immigration” or “anti-American.” Many support secure borders along with pathways to legal citizenship for those who deserve it and policy reform based on free-market principles.

Yet any discussion of “common-sense, comprehensive” solutions on the federal or state level seems to have been relegated to the back burner while 1070 is front and center, said Arizona blogger Julie Erfle.

Its prominence in the news cycle has ebbed and flowed in the past year, she said, with the recall election of Sen. Russell Pearce, the law’s main sponsor, and a federal investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose reputation for impromptu raids and rough handling of inmates made him the focus of a Department of Justice probe.

“It’s not just 1070 but the DOJ investigation of Arpaio, the recall election, all these things have really led to this divisive attitude and wall of distrust between the Latino community and law enforcement,” she said. “The actual law hasn’t changed much because it was enjoined but the effects of the law are more psychological. It has served to divide the community and stifle debate on other important issues.”

Cuts to education and chronic unemployment are some of the issues on the minds of most Arizonans, she said.

“Definitely, the people who are fighting against 1070 see it as stain on Arizona’s reputation. But by and large, the people in Arizona are tired of it dominating every discussion. They want to talk about other problems and solutions."

Erfle’s journey to Washington to hear arguments in the gallery Wednesday began with the shooting death of her husband, a Phoenix police officer and cancer survivor who was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Her search for information generated months of discussion with law enforcement, immigration attorneys and faith leaders and led her to believe that the roots of the problem required something more than an enforcement-only approach.

“Immigration reform is incredibly important to me and to be here for what’s definitely a history-making event was a difficult opportunity to pass over,” she said.

At this point, Paez is not sure how the Supreme Court case will affect him, regardless of its outcome. He’s too focused on the daily goals of attracting more clients and diversifying operations with new products, like fried taco shells and tostadas. Slowly but surely, he’s generating positive momentum, he said.

Still, if the law is upheld in its entirety, then the labor force will surely shrink, and there won’t be enough citizens to take all the low-paying jobs in restaurants and agriculture, he surmised. If the Supreme Court strikes it down, politicians will surely fight to resurrect it, thus continuing the cycle of angry rhetoric and protests, none of which helps draw investors from outside the state.

“It takes time to build confidence again for people to invest here,” he said, “I don't know how many people are willing to invest in this type of economy, especially in Arizona, where so many people have left and they’re worried about hiring people with no documents.

“Of course, they need to stop illegal immigration. How they’re going to do that, I don’t think anybody has the answer for that yet.”

Two opposing views on Arizona law

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Filed under: Arizona • Courts • Immigration • Justice
soundoff (452 Responses)
  1. Ziggy

    These illegals knew what they were doing wrong when they jumped the fence from the begining . Stop making it our problem.We have laws and they must be enforced,period.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Meep

    A)Using illegals gives businesses and unfair financial advantage, if you can't compete, too bad it's survival of the fittest.B)These families knew they were in this country illegally and didn't take any steps to become legal or insure they had a plan if they were caught. Who's responsible for their predicaments? They need to stop acting like a bunch of babies and take responsibility for their own choices.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • earl snyder

      I don't see what the big deal is about asking for ID. The Federal Government already requires employers to have an I9 form on file for all employees. It requires numbers and exp dates of green cards and authorization to work cards,drivers license,social securitycards. All will photo copied and placed in their employee file.If you had no ID when you applied for employment on a project where I took applications you were not hired. Isn't that a double standard?My employers could be fined if we did have ID's on all employees,yet the police cannot ask for ID's.Whats the difference???

      April 25, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. Cambridge Ray

    "CNN is a propaganda mill, not a professional news organization. They have chosen to side with illegal aliens against US Citizens."

    The following states have filled amicus briefs supporting the Fed's Supremacy on immigration matters.

    (On the other side, we have the Confederate States of America)

    – New York
    – California
    – Connecticut
    – Hawaii
    – Illinois
    – Iowa
    – Maryland
    – Massachusetts
    – Oregon
    – Rhode Island
    – Vermont
    – District of Columbia

    Cities, Counties, et al:

    – County of Santa Clara, California
    – City of Austin, Texas
    – City of Baltimore, Maryland
    – City of Beaverton, Oregon
    – City of Berkeley, California
    – City of Boston, Massachusetts
    – City of Bridgeport, Connecticut
    – Town of Carrboro, North Carolina
    – Town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    – City of Charleston, South Carolina
    – City of Cincinnati, Ohio
    – City of Columbia, South Carolina
    – The County of Dallas, Texas
    – The District of Columbia
    – City of Durham, North Carolina
    – City of Flagstaff, Arizona
    – City of Gainesville, Florida
    – City of Hallandale Beach, Florida
    – City of Laredo, Texas
    – City of Los Angeles, California
    – City of Madison, Wisconsin
    – City of Miami Beach, Florida
    – City of Minneapolis, Minnesota
    – County of Monterey, California
    – County of Multnomah, Oregon
    – The National League of Cities
    – City of New Haven, Connecticut
    – City of New York, New York
    – City of Oakland, California
    – City of Omaha, Nebraska
    – City of Palo Alto, California
    – Mayor of the City of Phoenix, Arizona
    – City of Portland, Oregon
    – City of Providence, Rhode Island
    – City of Saint Paul, Minnesota
    – Salt Lake City, Utah
    – the City and County of San Francisco, California
    – City of San Jose, California
    – City of San Leandro, California
    – City of San Luis, Arizona
    – County of San Mateo, California
    – City of Seattle, Washington
    – City of Tualatin, Oregon
    – City of Tucson, Arizona
    – United States Conference of Mayors
    – National League of Cities

    April 25, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • CallingBS

      There are no "Confederate States"!

      April 25, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • JC

      How DARE they report the news, when it's news you don't like?

      April 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. woodie

    If your business depends on illegal aliens, then yes, you WILL have problems with your business plan. It's like, if you are a drug pusher, then you might get a nice metal bunk next to a gay gorilla named Posey.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      POSEY?
      Oh, my.

      April 25, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. chefdugan

    This is a wonderful law and should be upheld. A previous comment hit it on the head – these Mexicans are trying to change the US culture.The sooner we get rid of them the better. I see that they are leaving, now let's keep them out.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • fchi

      American culture? Do you mean racism and American Idol? There are many many people who think your definition of American culture is hateful and anti-christian.

      April 25, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. chefdugan

    This is a wonderful law and should be upheld. A previous comment hit it on the head – these Mexicans are trying to change the US culture.The sooner we get rid of them the better. I see that they are leaving, now let's keep them out.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC

      You seem to have a misunderstanding about American culture: we contaminate other cultures, and we take what we like from them as we roll over them. Why do you think the Arabs fear us?

      April 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Saboth

    Hmmm...sounds like the law is working to me. Why should some companies be able to hire criminals and get around wage/employment laws while others obey the law and have to pay 3x more due to FICA, SS, benefits, etc?

    I've honestly got nothing against immigrants, but we have a system in place to become citizens. Illegally sneaking into the country then taking advantage of it's schools, welfare/medical system is not right. There are thousands of people waiting to become citizens that are doing it the legal way.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. PK

    So what's the option? Completely disregard and ignore all illegal immigration because it might inconvenience some people and businesses?

    April 25, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • CS Madison

      Well, ignoring the problem has worked for the last 50 years or so. Why not keep on ignoring it?! Maybe it will just go away.
      The big problem is that liberals want to look the other way because the illegals are just trying to make a better life for themselves, and the conservatives want to look the other way because their businesses are benefiting from the low wages they get to pay. The only ones who want to confront the issue are the middle class folks who lose jobs and have to pay higher taxes to support the illegals.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cambridge Ray

    chefdugan: " Mexicans are trying to change the US culture.The sooner we get rid of them the better."

    One can't help but wonder whether you are aware of the long-term, permanent, irreparable damage that you people are inflicting on the Republican Party.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. larry simpson

    I don't feel sorry for any business that goes under because they lost their illegal customers. Sounds like the law is working the way it always should have in every state

    April 25, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC

      They close and leave, they stop shopping at the grocery store and going to the movies and paying rent, and that money goes out of your local economy and moves where they move. The building is vacant, their home is empty, their employees are laid off and not spending either. Ronnie RayGun used to call it the Trickle-down Effect, and when it stops trickling, you see things drying up.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cambridge Ray

    You can bet your right arm that all those making anti-business comment here, are not entrepreneur material and have never run a business, not even a lemonade stand.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      Anti-business?
      No.
      Not at all.

      If one's business is dependant on illegal activity *of any sort*, one should expect their business to suffer when their are crackdowns on said illegal activity...

      April 25, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      S/read 'there are crackdowns'.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. SMS

    So, the one illegal family fled after the AZ law was enacted out of fear. Does it strike anyone as odd that they don't fear the federal law about being here illegally? What does that say about the federal effort toward curbing illegal immigration? (keeping in Mind that Obama has two illegal relatives living in the US, both under orders to leave, yet both remain). The feds are ineffective. Let's let someone else see if they can do better, it wuld be hard to do worse!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. tobeornottobe

    More drivel from CNN, the progressive propaganda machine.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mark

    Bye bye! Don't come back!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bobbi

    Why does CNN do this????? Sergio Paez you need to leave the US if that's how you think. ILLEGAL MEANS BREAKING THE LAW. I had a doctor appointment Monday and after I stopped at the mall to pick up something. Guess what I saw???? Mexicans at least over 1/3 of the people there. And these mexicans had men with them and this was the middle of a WORK DAY. Guess who is paying for them to shop... Food stamps, etc. THE LEGAL AMERICANS OF THE US WHO PAY TAXES>>>>>>

    April 25, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC

      You didn't call Immigration and report them? Why not? Afraid they'd all pull out green cards or US driver's licenses and tell you they weren't at work because they were at a doctor instead? To you, any Hispanic is an illegal and should be shunned or harmed, right? THAT is why this law is going to wreck Arizona's economy; you'll drive away your workers.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
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