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. inachu

    Poor poor man who can not run a legit business without hiring illegals. Do what other people did. Hire family and out of work friends. Illegal workers to me equal illegal profits. Any profits should be sent to Americans who are unemployed because of illegals or H!B or L1 transfers. That type of business is not an honest business.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. inachu

    I totally agree. It is a game of the rich to see who can reach lower for the bottom dollar.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. DarwinsRight

    NO NEWS HERE. All CRIMINALS distrust police, every CRIMINAL put in jail has caused divided families, every CRIMINAL put away doesn't go to work at their job anymore, every CRIMINAL that is taken care of the way they should be dealt with, no longer buys goods at retail outlets. So in fact every word of this story tells what happens as a result of CRIMINAL behavior. Same since the Garden of Eden. No news here....bragging about ignorance thats all it is.

    April 26, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. cslagenhop

    I think that that is the point – to be divisive – to divide those who are here legally from those who are here illegally.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. luvpoems

    Arizona's housing crisis was caused by SB1070? Then I guess the current rebound in Arizona's housing was caused by illegals leaving the state. There is now a housing shortage in the Phoenix area and prices are quickly climbing. Is that because NO ONE wants to live in Arizona and that they all hate SB1070? Don't think so. Nor, is it because illegal aliens have exited. Arizona has always been an excellent state to raise your kids and will continue to be.

    Don't blame others for your failures. Anyone who has become a citizen of this country realizes just how fortunate they are to be in "the land of opportunity".

    Now, about Illegal aliens. Last time I checked, there's NOT a country in the world that wants illegal immigrants .Many countries classify ILLEGAL immigrants as CRIMINALS. Legal Immigrants and ILLEGAL immigrants are totally different classifications. Please don't get them confused. Has anyone taken the time to check out how Mexico treats the people illegally entering their southern borders? If you haven't, I suggest you do your own investigation. What you find may shock you.

    Immigrants have always been welcomed in the US and will always be (although this is not true of other countries).

    So, please stop whining about SB1070 and make every effort to obtain legal entry into this country.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    All I can say is Deport, Deport, Deport and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Change the stupid law on Anchor Babies too.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Scot

    Why shouldn't people be afraid of being deported? It is next to impossible to not know you are here illegally.
    If you really want to save America (US) dissolve NAFTA "agreement" and raise the import tax to 20%. The companies and jobs will come rushing back to the states. Stop buying anything not made or grown in the US. Spend your money locally, that way it stays here. If you buy something from another country you will most likely never see that money again. Please look at every candidate as an individual and what have they really done. Romney, Obama, Johnson, Paul. Look beyond what the corporate owned media is feeding you. Obama and Romney are the same. Either way the 1% wins. Stop electing lawyers please. They go to college to learn how to twist and mislead for profit and then we are surprised and shocked when they do it in office. Tax all net income over $5 million at 50%. Double penalties for government (any) employees and politicians who betray the trust of the public for personal gain. Mandatory 2 years of civil service (18-20) for anyone who wishes to go to college on a grant. Dissolve welfare over an eight yr plan by slowing funding organizations (for 4 years then weening the following 4) to take over this chore making communities more responsible for their own. Costa Rica requires a non citizen who wants in to their health care system to pay $25000+/- ($10 scripts and $20 copays). I got a complete physical in Thailand for $77 (blood work, x rays, bone density, cancer screen and more) and had my results in two hours.

    Will someone please find out how many jobs Romney created vs how many he dissolved in his lifetime.

    Wow way off topic but have had alot on my mind.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kamarasune

    So he crying that its harder for him to hire illegals so he can keep his over head down enough to undercut everyone else.

    Sorry I just can't find the tears for this one...

    April 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tularockstar

    It's amazing to see liberal media like CNN can stoop so low to call Arizona law, Divisive! I guess CNN can call themselves a race-baiter news organization now huh? So, since AZ laws mirror Federal Laws, that would make our Federal government a bigot? Yeah, right! All CNN did today was further dividing this country into classes, so it can further George Soros' agenda of chaos and class warfare! But, Americans are going to wise up and see that CNN is nothing more than a talking head for the Democraps and Socialist Liberals.

    April 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Enough

    The single word says it all: ILLEGALS. Why do these people and their sympathizers think there is anything they can stand for that would or should be considered in their favor? ILLEGAL . This Mario who is 20, did he go to our public schools? Did his parents pay taxes? Se we footed the bill for Mario and all the other Illegals who take from the system and give noting in taxes back to it to help fund it. I am sorry, I hope all 50 states adopt a form of this law.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dr Veruju

    "Arizona law leaves divisive legacy"

    The headline is incorrect, it is illegal immigration that leaves a divisive legacy!
    What about the millions of law abiding US citizens unemployed or have had their livelihoods wiped out because of illegal immigration?

    April 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    Put up or shut up. To all of the liberals that are abetting criminals adopt a mexican family and they can move back to mexico to be with their families and you can send them half of your income every week. They'll be happy you'll be happy and all of us that don't want to support them will be happy. Problem solved.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lucky27

    Maybe he could move somewhere where the illegals still live, Texas, California, etc. Or maybe he should add new product lines? He should listen to Dave Ramsey and quit his whining.

    April 27, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. Donna

    Illegals, go home! You are not wanted here, to pick apples, cotton or anything else! And we ESPECIALLY don't want you here collecting benefits of ANY kind if you are here ILLEGALLY - you have no rights - go home!

    April 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. lisa

    Obama rewards illegals for coming here, so more are coming in every day. Every politician, plus CNNS FAREED ZACHARY who can barely speak English, begs us to give illegals amnesty then plays the sob card. Schumer/Durbin can't understand what happened since they had the Dream Act all sewed up 11 years ago and Republicans buying their soap operas. Durbin/Schumer/Gutierrez, LaRaza wants us to provide amnesty for all the parents, and relatives squatting around waiting for amnesty with chain migration called "people in the shadow", plus college. They showed 6 students who excelled on our dime, they don't mention the millions who are tearing up our neighborhoods and schools. Sotomayor dubbed "the wise latina" in the Supreme court, Obama style, and LaRaza members holding high positions in congress, all rewarded for being illegal or anchor babies.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
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