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. Jay

    I am sure it has nothing to do with his tortillas tasting terrible, or does it? hmmm

    April 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NorCalMojo

    Arizona is proof that the federal government is corrupt. Any enforcement at all will cause immediate self deportation.

    Illegals don't want to sneak or "live in the shadows". They're here because the federal government is corrupt and looks the other way. Reform the government agencies tasked with enforcing our laws and the problem will fix itself.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. b

    i guess sergio needs to open a donut shop now and he will do a lot better than taco's

    April 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ADiff

    BTW, my ancestors came here 1609. They did this in violation of certain rules imposed by the English crown, as well as the Spanish King....Oh well, I guess you'll just have to deport me...except I should warn you about my family...remember that little 'dust up' between '61 and '65? Well we were part of killing almost a half-million Yanqis then...

    April 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • NorCalMojo

      sick freak

      April 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • fish

      Are you that old?

      April 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dave

    Maybe he should sell some of them tacos on Mexico..what's stopping him?

    April 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mopar

    It is the lack of addressing the law, or the lack of enforcing it, that created an illusion of a new "acceptable" standard. As time went on, the more entrenched people got.. It is like a addict.. The longer one is addicted to something, the harsher the withdrawal syptoms are going to be. Family units that should have never rooted in the US did. The first generation "illegal" knew exactly what they were doing but paid no mind to the future negative impact it could possibly have. Same thing with the users of cheap labor, they got addicted to it..... It is a deep trench and a sad one. But, at the end of the day, SOMETHING has to change and the law be enforced, if not by the Fed's, then at least by the States...

    April 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Scott

    Seriously? The focal point of this article is a guy upset that illegal immigration is being slowed because he sells less tortillas? You can't make this stuff up. CNN seems to be doing more articles with a clear political vs. reporting agenda.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lazurite

    My family emigrated here legally, assimilated in the culture and learned the language. I maintain that what is good for my family is good for everyone else's who decides to move to this country.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mickey1313

    No sympathy for illegal s. Do it legally or get the heck out.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skullfck3r

      I am hispanic who support immigration laws; however, in NPR I heard a farmer in Georgia who is willing to pay $16.00/hr for people to pick his crops cant find anyone to do it? Why is this, $16.00/hr is very good money for an unemployed american citizen.

      April 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tooter

      you are so correct. The Federal Government won't enforce the laws of America then the states should do it for them to protect its citizens. Could not be any more simple. Federal don't do it so states will have to.

      April 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JeffersonDarcy

    Illegal aliens are costing us millions each day. They collect social welfare, take jobs, (with stolen, or fake ID)
    burden schools, get handouts, commit crimes..
    Illegal immigration costs the U.S. more than $130 billion a year.
    Help us to stop this.
    Google: NUMBERSUSA .
    Once you are registered, go to the "action board" to send free faxes to your state representative.
    They are all typed up and ready to go, you just need to click your mouse to send.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • CA Liberal

      Illegals also pay taxes and social security and do a lot of work you wouldn't even consider doing.

      April 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tooter

      Illegals are that Illegal. They do not pay taxes since they do NOT have a valid Social Security number. If something is not done soon we will lose this country. I love the USA. My ancestors and current family have fought and died for America and I will work in any way that I can to keep her safe from illegals. You Go Arizona!!!!

      April 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tonto Whiteman

      Illegal's do not get welfare checks. You have to have a social security number to get welfare. States just dole that out to anyone who shows up, and if they do, THAT is a big problem at the state level. The "Illegal's get too much welfare" excuse the #1 lie that "Americans" want to believe. "Americans" forget that the SW was once part of Mexico and it was Native American land before that, all stolen by Spain and later stolen in wars against native Americans and bogus land deals by the newly formed United States of America. Indigenous families have been migrating in these lands for hundreds of years while the land has changed ownership and boundaries changing. If you are of any native American decent you should have an expedited process to become a citizen of whatever government claims to control the land and any given time. Who are we, white America, to tell any brown skinned native American/Latin that they are illegal. It's just wrong.

      April 25, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mugzee

    Now that the illegals are gone, all you people that have been complaining that " They're taking our jobs " can now shut your mouths and go get that job that was "taken" from you!

    April 25, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mapexvenus

    I am a legal immigrant and fully support our immigration laws. How they are enforced is always debatable, but if we don't come down hard they we may never solve this problem.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tooter

      We welcome you to America. It is so unfair to you allowing those without an invitation to come into the USA.

      April 25, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dlopez

    for real???? Maybe this guy can move to Mexico to sell these tortillas to all those that (supposedly) had to go back ... no more government funded tortillas!!!

    April 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LegalLatinAmerican

    I'm Latino and i came to the USA Legally, i Do speak English and i do agree that the government must control the border, if you want to come to USA you must come legally and learn the Language!. Americans deserve respect and we must respect their language and culture.

    In other hands all illegals are not Mexicans and all Latinos are not illegals, so don't generalized.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jody

    It's only divisive in the sense of lawabiding vs criminals, pretty simple.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
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