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. joe

    We have been sold out by both sides, Democrat elites want the illiterate voters to swell their base, Republican elites want the cheap compliant labor. Everyone benefits, except the middle class legal American citizen who gets screwed beyond belief in the deal. It really is that simple folks. Think about that next time you vote.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Doubting Thomas

    There wouldn't be a problem if the law was actually upheld from day one. Too simple to figure out??

    April 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ed C.

    Yeah, it's really a shock to all those Mexican who have been freely wandering around the United States for the last 60-25 years, feasting on everything American. The politicians have been selling us out for years, first as a novelty for those on the border during the war, but it was done in a different way. Since NAFTA it's all about 'The silent take over of America' forming hundreds of Mexican/latin groups, consolidating to pay off politicians, since Mexicans figured out the system and are masters at dealing with crooks because they came from a crooked country. All it took is one anchor baby to become a Mayor, then Senator.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dustin

    You know I am born and bred American. First in Missouri, now a native Oklahoman. Have traveled many bad roads in my life. Worked construction from seventeen until now. Do you realize that the cost of construction has been kept at a low becasue of immigrants? Do you realize that the cost of fruit and vegetable cost has been kept as low as it can becasue of traveling immigrants. I am white I have seen most of this country and hear the complaints but they mostly come from lazy Americans not willing to let go their previous high rates of payments to illegal immigrants. I have skills in construction that are unmatched in my time there I am smart, hard working, and run these jobs with these immigrants not because they are netter but because they are willing. You want to fix the problem go build a building, or harvest fruit, for minunum wage and no benifits. Our country problem is not immigrants with the influx of gas prices they are our salvation. Our countries problem is lazy workers and an unwillingness to take on labor positions for less. I have never met the hispanic that could out work me therefore they gain my respect. Maybe they should gain yours too.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John Ross

    I understand the loss of tortilla sales, but what has happened to the state and local funds spent on healthcare, police enforcement, education etc for the added social burdens that are admittedly lessened? Are those costs down? Is this benefiting the state as they had anticipated?

    April 25, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chauncy

    Illegals are birthing over 100,000 babies a month here and CNN has the gaul to come out with new statistics (questionable) saying there is 0 to reverse illegal immigration since Obama because of the depression? Shame and embarrassing that CNNs journalists have to lie to persuade people to go against SB1070. Not mentioning that Obama released 300,000 illegals ready for deportation 3 months ago, thanks to Obama, Pat Lehay, Durbin, Schumer. CNN has the worst reporters and journalists to hit the airwaves. If there are 0 illegals here why sweat SB1070, you Mexican lovers have nothing to worry about, so give them back their money. Shame on CNN for mouthing false information that just happens to be released on the same day SB1070 goes to court, your sweat smells all over America.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      100,000 babies a month? Can you cite a valid source for this statistic?

      April 26, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
    • lucy

      It's more like 350,000 a year, nothing to sneer at, plus add up all the last 25 years, you could probably do the same math the
      Democrats bought of by Mexicans do and be as correct as they are. I agree with your post 100%, CNN has been flooding the air waves with the most ridiculous illegal immigration information in history. They also don't mention Obamas backdoor
      Amnesty, or the fact they expect us to give them free education from grants paid by whom? Mexicans crisscross the border all the time and have such a good thing going, they aren't leaving willingly.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. DoNotWorry

    Why should we cry because he based his entire business on illegals? Why does lamestream media pretend that illegals are good for this country when they cost billions annually and take jobs from citizens? Mexico enforces its border security against South Americans with machine guns. Mexico allows 600,000 legal immigrants annually (most married to citizens). Canada allows about 6 million legal immigrants annually. In 2010 Congress increased legal immigration to 38 million. In our worst economy since the Depression. We have an annual trade deficit that is sinking our country... but Congress doesn't allow OMB to include the amount illegals send out of this country every year... and it equals our trade deficit every single year. Time to stop the incubus.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Consequence

      by definition, no illegal is good for the country.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • April

      You obviously don't have the education to understand the problems and offer solutions. You have been formed by misinformation and propaganda. You are a perfect example of what is wrong with America and why those outside its borders see Americans as racist xenophobes.

      April 26, 2012 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
  8. ccharles

    We all know its a problem... how to solve it? Heres an idea.

    Charge the country we deport an illegal back to $25,000. for deportation and immigration services. Those that wont pay, take it out of any Aid going to that country. The changes this would put into motion would help curb the problem.

    As for those that built there buisness around illegals, weather as labor or as consumers.. hey thats your fault, and you should reap your rewards of a failed business due to what you relied upon.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack455

      Charge the home country..?? Won't work. If you were to DEDUCT $$$ from the Foreign Aid the US sends, then you might have a shot at getting something done.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  9. lucy

    If illegals will disperse, maybe we can get wages back to where we can afford to live in the economy this country demands. We have been sold out so badly by politicians who leave the WH richer than when they went in, we are fools to let this continue. I live in a state that is crowded with illegal Mexicans speaking Spanish pushing buggies with new babies or holding the hand of their 4 and 5 year olds, and it has gotten worse in the last few years. Our governor couldn't pass the budget so threw the elderly, disables and poorest citizens under the bus as Mexican anchor babies go to the dentist for free and our doctor offices are overrun with runny nosed, whooping cough Mexican children coming in from California.
    By the way it's 350,000 illegal babies a year, someone made a mistake and said a month, but I know where they are coming from. Add all the last 25 years since NAFTA and the figures match everything the DEMS throw out. You can start
    with Bill Clinton who is now coaching Obama, not that he needs it.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Judith

      The problem is that though people want to get rid of illegal immigrants and get jobs paying a decent wage, they do not want to pay the extra prices of good and services where illegal immigrants account for a large percentage of the workforce. I have lost count of stupid remarks like "Those illegals only come here to take the jobs that Americans will not do."

      April 26, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • luvpoems

      You're right. Odd how wages are lowest where illegal population is highest.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Aerocog

    If we had dealt with the illegal immigrant issue back in the 1970s or 80s we would have pull these ugly thorns when these illegals established themselves.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Consequence

    The "divisive" legacy of Arizona's SB1070 is divided between law breakers and law abiders.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bruce

    Its about time the Supreme Court is getting involve, and let hops it goes for what Arizona believe in the rights of all Americans and those who have come here legally.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. Truth

    To be honest, I was personally abused with an illegal and drunk neighbor from Mexico in the past. His kids scratched my car, slam my door and make a noise at mid-night playing under street light. come on! We don't really need them here as they are changing our nation to something like a third world country. How many people died by an illegal drunk and drive person. I personally know quite a few. Remember, there are a lot of Africans who would love to come here with their own expense, work and go back to their country with the money they earned. So, why allow these illegal immigrants to come here and incubate their children so we end up paying their expenses. Not only that, crime and refusal to learn English put them in a disadvantage due to failure in communication.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. John

    If you don't like the law, change it. If you break it, you should face the consequences. Obama supports illegals because he want their votes. Plain and simple.

    April 26, 2012 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
    • karlheiz

      Dude, illegals can't vote.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Omareos

      How much ignorant can one be? An illegal alien is not allowed to vote, nor receive benefits. To me, it's a lot better to see somebody work hard than to see many working-capable AMERICANS on welfare and housing when they could easily find a job! Eat that!

      April 26, 2012 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Obama supports this because he has family here illegally. Aunt I think to be the lationship and she's living off of our welfare system, and a drunk uncle (arrested) I think to be the relationship, who both have been asked in the past to leave the country.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  15. mac

    Politicians are planing their own program to determine workers for companies? This is still big business and Mexican groups running politicians. They should listen to the stats, that 68% Americans want illegals out of here, that makes 32% are Hispanic, some of whom don't want illegals here either, sooo, who do these politicians think they should suck up to? They realize Mexicans are propagating at warp speed at our expense to take over America, so they want to be well set by the time they own our country. Kick them out now, change our laws or hound the likes of Schumer, Durbin, Reid, Obama until they get out of congress and off the pay roll of illegal Dream act students, LaRaza, etc. By the way, some politician was on here with the tired old lie illegals pay taxes meaning 'sales taxes' or taxes with false IDs, that is unless Hilda Solis got to them and showed illegals how to sign up for their tax IDs so they can use our system to retire in Mexico without even being a citizen of this country. Not that we want that type person here, they are all robbers and liars if they do this.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
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