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. Dick Hertz

    Cry me a river. The ones I feel sorry for are the Americans who lost their jobs to the leeches. Them and their families.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Michael

    143 million americans do not earn enough to pay taxes, the largest vroup to benefit from US TAX AND WELFARE programs is the american who earn 65k.
    What a joke the term "Illegal immigrant ", what the heck are tthoze ameri a.s who are invading, assassinating and generally lining our natio.s corporate pockets?
    (The immigrants, legal and not are not living on debt, credit cards, or grants as are so mmany who never did and never will pay off their debts.

    April 25, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BoBo

    Hmmmm here is the way the Mexican government handles illegal immigration.

    "Under the Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison. Immigrants who are deported and attempt to re-enter can be imprisoned for 10 years. Visa violators can be sentenced to six-year terms. Mexicans who help illegal immigrants are considered criminals.

    The law also says Mexico can deport foreigners who are deemed detrimental to “economic or national interests,” violate Mexican law, are not “physically or mentally healthy” or lack the “necessary funds for their sustenance” and for their dependents."

    April 25, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dscon

    obama regime leaves divisive legacy

    April 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Larry in Phoenix

    And here is exactly why SB1070 has already had a major impact across this country (from the article)
    “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,”

    I would like to change maybe to eventually.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 23 from texas

    I cant remember the last time 65% of Americans agreed about anything... I think we agree about this one guys. Two thumbs way up for Arizona! 🙂

    April 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • HenryB

      I guess I am in the 35%.

      April 25, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JiminNM

    If anyone can recommend a better way to identify and deport illegals, post it. I am sure Arizona would do something different if more effective.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JP

    They think the "damage has been done"? The damage has been done to THIS COUNTRY...not to illegal immigrants.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. viking

    Using your logic nearly any laws can be seen as divisive. Drug cartels depend on a long series of illegal activities by many people from manufacture to retail consumption to make a living. People who buy stolen goods depend on thieves. Etc, etc.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. panda

    this is like saying that cracking down on high seas piracy will send many somalians into poverty.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. George

    Maybe he should make what the locals want? Sounds like he has a bad business plan.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Ross

      Time to switch to Pizzas

      April 25, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. lazy wyte guy

    We are lazy Americans and depend too much on our government

    April 25, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • NUNYA

      no, we are not lazy americans – we do not depend on our government – but our government/ medical system/ resources are being feasted on by illegals

      April 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. eaglesglen

    If the U.S. Fed and participating foreign powers (and their illegal aliens) had to pay American citizens who own this nation for the illegal use of the land (this nation) by illegals, illegals would not exist as there is not profit to be had, How did the Fed FRAUD THE OWNERS (American citizens) of Fair Market Value for the illegal use of this nation.
    Rememer the Alamo? NO. Remember the battle of San Jacinto ( is that 630 : 9 ? ).
    America has won > 1000 battles since then. Mexico won enen one?

    April 25, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ashley

    Nationally, 39 percent of welfare recipients are white, 37 percent are black, and 17 percent are Hispanic, so you don't get confused, Hispanic does not mean illegal, Hispanic refers to a person of Hispanic origins such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish Culture, just like a white refers to a person of origins in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa).

    April 25, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • lucy

      Can you prove your stats? There are more illegal babies we pay for from birth through college than any whites, Asians or blacks.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. missed it

    What the heck, do we only enforce law that we want? Illegal aliens are called illegal for a reason NO MATER the country, race or creed.........why must it always be because we are against a people or religion? I hate political correctness why can't we deal with people honestly with all the cards on the table?? I know more questions than answers..... The law is a law, enforce it or get rid of it........

    April 25, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
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