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. Mt Belzoni

    As a proud native European-American, I'm offended by Sergio's assumption that we don't enjoy fresh tortillas too. 😉

    April 25, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Blonde Sucking

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    April 25, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom in San Diego

    I know many people from Mexico that work here! They are wonderful human beings. This issue isnt about them, its about MAKING Washington put a policy in place that affords our visitors a reasonable way to work here, make money here if they do work and have a reasonably short qualification examination to allow them to be here legally. There simply is no excuse for good people not to have a short, perhaps 2 years maximum time to meet the requirements to become a US Citizen. This is about us people..not them....

    April 25, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veronica

      Visitors? Are you kidding? Visitors start to stink after 3 days!

      April 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CA Liberal

    My grandfather came over from Norway on the boat in 1887. He was just a kid. Legal, illegal? Don't know, don't care. My other 3 grandparents were born here. I do know that a lot of Irish, at that time, were fleeing the potatoe famine and were comming ashore legalily and illegilly in droves. They were the Mexicans of their day. The USA tried hard to keep them out.....BTW just 50 years before that, Arizona was part of Mexico.

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

      the Irish quickly assimilated, learned English and soon were running the cities...they were and are your politicians, cops & firemen. Good DNA succeeds.

      April 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. larry5

    Do I have the point of this story correct. If following the law hurts a business I should not try to change the law I should just ignore it?

    April 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Stolen Lawnmower

    A police officer has every right to question whoever hired that illegal lawnmower too. And if you did in fact hire an illegal lawnmower rather than a US citizen, prepare to goto jail.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Stolen Lawnmower

    You should follow the law until our lawmakers change it. (duh) Is this not how Americans behave while in Mexico? This is how it is everyhere, including the USA.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Harmonica

    lmao @Veronica's Irish. What? One in every million cops is an Irishman? Or was that redhead. Most of US are part native indian anyways. A lighter shade of creamy.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Philip

    Lest we forget most young and healthy immigrants were assimilated, not into American society, but into the Union Army, literally walking-off the immigration boat and onto a ship bound for Civil War. Welcome to America.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    Begging the question, how many have become legal US citizens via military service? Like, how many central and south American countries troops went AWOL recruited by Colin Powell's Combat Services Limited to fight in, say, Iraq? With US CITIZENSHIP as part of their pay for surviving? How many are in wooden boxes buried in the deserts of Iraq, for instance.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Pert ner dinnertime

    First of all, who writes these posts? The liberals who probably make money off of cheap labor, or Mexcian sympathisers who don't seem to understand that Illegal Immigration to the US is breaking the law?

    April 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      So which one are you?
      You posted...

      April 25, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Spence

    Maybe Sergio Paez should consider hiring legal persons for his business and quit treating the illegal immigrants like slaves.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Johnson

    Can't wait for the law to be upheld so that other States can implement it and we can get rid of Illegals. Also, the Dream Act will be DOA.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cacique

    The Justices have to keep in mind that much of Arizona's law was based on blatant racism and bigotry. The last thing Gov. Brewer and her colleagues want to see is for Hispanics in general to become affluent and getting control of politics. The Justices have to probe the Arizona system not only to listen to what Az politicians are voicing, but actually studying what they are doing and why. The Justices must study the effect the Hispanic population has had on the state, not only take as the truth what the people in power want them to see. They have to listen to the two sides.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      I'm not a racist or discriminating..just expect people to respect the laws of our country. They are more than welcome if they do it the right way

      April 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rocket

      I don"t think you heard the part of the arguments today where the US lawyer said no to the profiling question put to him by one of the justices. You appear to have it wrong in at least one of your assumptions. ,

      April 25, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • MikeDD

      Why listen to both sides? This isn't hard. There are those that are following the law and those that are breaking the law.

      The law breakers must go!

      It's not fair to the residents of Arizona (or any state struggling with illegal aliens) for the feds to say it's their problem and not fix the problem.

      April 25, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. m

    Look not all State laws that are meant to protect the resources of that state are going to be loved. But I believe there's been more than enough time and opportunity for the feds to realize they are in way over their heads on this issue. Most people are not haters of others. It's more about protecting the limited resources available in each state. Education costs are very expensive on a per pupil basis and most of that burden falls either on homeowners or state tax payers. It;s not like illegals home school their kids which would be best for everyone. Those kids attend our public schools. It;s not like all of the illegals know about vaccination recommendations either. So this isn't about being loving accepting people of America. It's about State's having to balance budgets when the federal government does not have to. It's about protecting monetary resources so State's can function in a way that benefits the people they are there to serve.

    April 25, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
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