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. Bad Business

    It's sad that this law passed just to Run Out Hispanics/Latinos from Arizona, mainly Mexicans! There's been talk that it was designed to intimidate even American-born Hispanics and Latinos there. So, this is something for ALL Hispanics/Latinos to take into serious consideration when considering voting for a Republican in ANY office in these United States as they are the very ones who Champion such egregious bills designed to profile and intimidate those they feel are competing against them and want to get rid of! Now let's just call a spade a spade! If the SCOTUS upholds this bad law then Arizona, for one, will be suffering tremendously financially and help-wise from the lack of regular help to do the work other citizens do not want to do and will Never do! But they have no one else to blame but themselves when this happens! They should have known better, but well, it's ARIZONA we're talking about, so go figure!

    April 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. EJ

    Regardless of the Suspreme Courts' ruling, in my opinion whatever the problem with immigration is – if there truly is one, the part of the law allowing police to ask people at random for their immigration papers is illegal because it allows police to require hispanic or latino looking people – people with color in their skin to produce immigration papers while over looking immigrants from countries with lighter complexions which is clearly an unbelieveable act of racial discrimination – racial profiling. It tells me illigal immigration is not the target of the law but instead reducing the hispanic and latino population and vote.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GenericMan

    What a stupid law. I say break it. I always cheer for the law breakers. Come here and get a job. The only requirement is you have to work for you money and pay some taxes. Why does anyone have a problem with people coming here to work? We need workers and spenders in this country. I just wish they limit their number of children to no more than 3 because it can get really crowded here fast.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fool Keller

    Justice for Matthew Owens in Alabama. Look it up! See through the media blackout!

    April 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JC

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but if all the Hispanics leave, Arizona will go broke and California will buy it cheap.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. alienware

    For discussions, it's always good to distinguish between legal aliens and illegal aliens. There's a difference between legal immigrants versus illegal immigrants.

    Mexico also throws out illegal aliens who come in thru its southern borders. So why shouldn't the USA or any other country do the same ? heepocreesee ?

    April 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. loves to laugh at arizona

    Jan Brewer is nuttier than squirrel poop! Get her out of office!

    April 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • lol "squirrel poop"!

      hmmm... a bag of squirrels pooping all at the same time?

      April 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dulouz

    Tortillas are lame. We don't need tortillas. Operate a world class American style manufacturing plant and then ask for credibility.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      @ dulouz
      So much for capitalism? RIGHT!?!
      If you won't suppport an american trying to create a small business. Then you're a hypocrite like all the rest of the Republican party these days.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. juskishifatu

    i don't see the problem here. you are here illegally....ILLEGALLY. heaven forbid we enforce our country's laws. if all states would stand up and take action and fight obama on this issue then maybe, we can take back our country and start allowing people to come here legally, who have been screened, willing to work and pay taxes, willing to learn english and are here for a better life and not to commit crime. is that such a bad thing to ask for?

    April 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lionel

      Did Marco Rubio family come here legally? How about the millions of italian, black and irish immigrants.

      I wondered when Romney's family crossed the border from Mexico, was that legal?

      People come to America for opportunites and a better life. If you have build that life then you should be given a chance. Pass the DREAM act.

      This law is profiling people especially Latinos. Did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians living illegally in Florida.

      Latinos for Obama

      April 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • ADiff

      "Illegal" is the only problem? No problem then...pass legislation making them 'legal', and then there's no problem at all...according to you.

      Or is there, perhaps, something else on your mind, eh?

      April 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • ADiff

      So just legalize them...what's the problem then?

      We're all ears.....

      April 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      What's wrong with doing it legally? It's the easiest country in the world to do it legal.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • rick


      April 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Quit The Hate

    It's about time! I'm so sick of these Canadians coming here and taking all of our jobs and living off all our hard earned tax money. Those maple syrup eating freaks. I mean they don't even have any decent bacon and what's with that accent, eh? I say pack up all those hockey playing, sweater wearing, moose jockeys and send them packing. Wait! What's that? We don't care if they're illegal immigrants if they're white? Ohhhh! See I didn't get the memo from my local group that hates everyone that doesn't look, act, think and talk exactly like they do. Forgetfulness must come from my German grandparents who immigrated here in the 1920's.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • you_first

      Maybe you should quit the hate. And try debating this intelligently.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • grandchild

      I assume that your grandparents immigrated here legally – just like mine did. Maybe it's that forgetfulness that makes you forget that the debate is about illegals.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • DamianKnight

      This is just silly. The law is against illegal immigrants, not against illegal Mexicans. The problem is, that the Hispanic population makes up over 90% of the illegal immigrant population. That's why the Hispanic population gets all up in arms every time someone mentions enforcing the laws.

      If you find illegal Canadians, Russians, Chinese, Kenyans or any other nation, deport them too. It's a small mind that thinks this is a race issue. The issue is much larger than that.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • bs1

      Those illegal Canadians you sarcastically comment on do indeed exist and they should be deported just as surely as any other illegal regardless of where they came from. Every single illegal in the US of any ethnicity needs to be found and deported now. For those who say we need the cheap labor, I say for every illegal deported fast-track in a new legal immigrent who has followed the laws. No amnesty for anyone who illegally came to the US other than those brought here as very young children who clearly had no culpability in their parent's crimes.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Deportment ALL ILLEGALS

      April 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • fish

      Surelly the native americans are asking for all ILLEGAL immigrants to be snd back to Europe

      April 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Would Like To Know

    Why pass laws that make it harder for the people and the economy in their own state I'd like to know? And why pass laws like the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 that infringes upon its citizens as well and in a Big way? Have these lawmakers nothing better to do than to go against those who put them in office? Well, We are their bosses and they can certainly be removed from office in the next election!

    April 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. James Bailey

    Give me a break!! The law has done no such thing. Illegal mexicans have casued this.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Oh silly me! It was all the "mexicans" paying illegals to come work here for less during our housing boom not Republican business men. Silly me. Here I thought it was because it was cheap labor without having to pay any healthcare benefits and the employer could make record tax free gains. So this AZ Republican run state exploits illegals and then when they're done. They chase you out of town or as Romney put it... they fire you. Sound familar?

      April 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nodack

    When you intentionally sneak across a border with a country you are breaking their laws and know exactly what you are doing. I don't feel sorry for you after you do because you might get sent back. You weren't supposed to be here in the first place.

    The US already allows more LEGAL immigration than the rest of the world combined.

    I am an Obama supporter, but I disagree with him on this subject. I live in AZ, he doesn't. BTW this President has lowered illegal immigration more than any other President in history so to say he isn't doing anything about it is being untruthfull.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • The REAL Truth...

      Since you live in AZ, you should be aware [then] that it – along with the OTHER border state TX – are RED states. The political grandstanding coming out of those states has nothing to do with immigration laws. Obama has NOT changed any of the immigration laws. In fact, more illegals have been deported under his administration that the previous one.

      Both states Govenors have eyed Federal office and their states have BOTH received federal resources in support of fighting illegal immigration. Funny how the legislators of both states managed to re-route those resources to places other than intended, so they could continue to beat up on the Obama administration.

      April 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    That's ok! Let the supreme court go ahead and pass this discriminatory law that's going to be drafted by all the southern states! I could just imagine what would happen when the cops mess with the wrong family! You know, some American born and raised Hispanic family whose head of household or son or daughter is a cop themselves! I could just imagine the shootout! It would be the wild west all over again! Go mess with the wrong Hispanic or dark skinn family and see what happens what they retaliate!

    April 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gekco789

      First of all if you are illegal no matter what culture or race you come from you are still illegal. If the tables were turned lets just use Mexico as an example and tons of illegals were coming into their county stealing their jobs, their health care, their welfare, their county's taxes, and Americans not learning how to speak spanish; I would think they would request that Americans come to their country legally as well.

      There is no other country that I can think of that allows people to be illegally in their country with out some kind of consequences for their actions. Do you know that other countries will not let people from other countries come over to live and be a citizen (its almost in possible in some counties).

      If you are illegal you take responsibility for what happens to you and your family!

      April 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Thanks to the rightwing leadership in congress and their teabags across America, we're inching closer and closer to another civil war!

    April 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gekco789

      Good bring on a civil war maybe that is what needs to happen so that Congress and the President will act and follow through with the laws on illegal immigration. If that puts a fire under the butt to do something then I am all for it!!

      April 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ADiff

      Actually I blame the Left far more than the Right.... The ardent opposition to progress isn't hard to defuse...unless one make their extremist fears material by acting like the very strawmen they base their positions on.... So I think La Raza is a LOT more to blame for progress than all the hypocritical "Tea Party" types.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
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