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. Shuffler

    If you make your living off criminals then you deserve to be punished. All people coming into the US "illegally" are criminals.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • George Washington

      Police make their "living" off of criminals......
      What a Maroooooon......

      April 25, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Nomad

      @Geo...isn't marooon a color???

      April 25, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. Nip it in "The Bud"

    "The Bud" being US citizens who create the demand for cheap labor. We should focus on our OWN citizens FIRST! Our law enforcement agencies should be aggressivly pursuing US citizens who break laws and hire cheap slave labor illegal Mexicans. Cut the snakes head off. Don't just sit there playing with it. Sheesh.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tee

    What? No author's name. It must be because he/she shares the same race as the scofflaws violating our sovereignty.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack the Ripper

      You mean Arizonians? Maybe.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • lucy

      No Ripper, s/he means Mexicans illegals.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. Christine Weaver

    Ms. Gaines comment that she would not want to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona because “This law tells people that Arizona does not welcome illegals, plain and simple. You can come at your own risk or go somewhere else.” Isn't that the point? If you're illegal, you're not wanted in the country.....any country. Come to America legally and you're very welcome!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I cannot think of a single state or country that *would* welcome ILLEGALS!

      April 25, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Cambridge Ray

      "Come to America legally and you're very welcome!"

      For certain class of people -Children of a Lesser God- what you suggest is impossible.

      April 25, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Is this Christine Weaver who was married to Jim? This is his son, Mark.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. carl47

    wanna bet

    April 25, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. killjoy

    keep walk-in south suckers!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. killjoy

    stop trying to get sympathy from americans…"IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN"…go fix your own country!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. IndyNC

    the problem is, no matter how you slice it – the laws are getting abused.

    Yes, some will use this to terrorize people and that is bad. At the same time, people show sneak in here illegally and make no effort to follow proper protocol are breaking the law. What do you say to people from the rest of the world who are denied entrance to this country doing it the right way when you give a instant pass to those who did it the wrong way?

    That's like giving someone a passing grade knowing they cheated.

    If you are not a citizen, become one, if you have no intention of becoming one, go home.

    As for enforcement of the law, I think far too long have businesses been able to hire cheap labor and people just turn the other way because they want it done fast and they want it done cheap. Police need to be cracking down on them

    April 25, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. amarjeet

    Illegal immigration must be stopped but not by inhuman & uneconomic ways. No country can sacrifice but sometimes human aspects overtake all other aspects of life. When there are floods or tortures in other countries, historically it has been seen that people migrate to porous countries along with animals. In war time too people flood the neighboring countries under fear & pressure on invading forces. It happened in Asia, in EU, Africa & in America South as well north. It is universal phenomenon & none can stop it just control & regulate to control the bad elements. Justice to immigrants is done if reasonable adjusted & amalgamated in population as none can afford leaving skilled & dedicated labor & workforce. With high violence & crime rate in America, it is better to have more sober & civilized people & develop them. Moreover they are substantially contributing to American economy & taxes in various forms. Human & justice factor should not be ignored which is more inhuman as Justice is held in place of next to God by people all over the globe.

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

      The only thing is, they are coming here just because they can, not under the duress of war. If they take the food out of our mouths and let us die because they use up all our resources for themselves, then they naturally cause resentment. The wore out their welcome with their greed, bragging they are going to take over our country, and systematically paying off our politicians so they can complete their task.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. dreamer96

    So he is a hard working US businessman, that makes money off the immigrants, and now he is upset they are leaving..We are all a bunch of hypocrites..The US law enforcement agencies get to keep all the captured drug runners money, and their property, and sell off that seized property, adding millions to their operating funds, paying hard working agents..are they going to lobby for the drug dealers too...

    April 25, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. chanel

    Stop complaining if you are here illegaly. when you protest at the captial and march down American streets demanding justice and ALL AMERICAN RIGHTS, then stop waving the mexican flag. The mexican flag is waving in mexico for mexican rights in mexico, like the British Flag waves in Englad for their rights and freedom. If you want to be apart of the American culture, learn the language and speak while in public, and stop marching around the country like a herd of idiots waving the mexican flag. ANY illegals here should adapt to the American culture and respect it. If you're here illegaly no matter what color or ethnic background, apply for citizenship, stand in line and abid by ALL AMERICAN LAWS. You left your country for a better life, so leave the baggage of the past country behind. Plain and simple. The problem is illegals crawl into this country and suck off the very people they want to respect them. Sorry, that ain't gonna happen!!!

    April 25, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • echotech

      right on brother !

      April 26, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. Goya

    You need to know your customer base. Try selling birth certificates, social security numbers and drivers licenses along with your tortillas. Just kidding. Laws do have impacts – especially laws created to correct for laws already passed that are not upheld. Under the FIA (freedom of information act) request all laws you are required to obey and then...build a new garage to store them in if you can ever get copies.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. Cynic

    Count me as one of those who are sick and tired of this political circus that has nothing to do with what's best for the country but has more to do with how so many people in Arizona are ignorantly deciding their positions on this without any comprehension of how real people work and how the real world works.

    These "hard-working" people who don't like immigrants don't have time to think about all the ramifications of any policy position and most of them lack any qualifications for their uninformed opinions to have any legitimacy whatsoever.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl47

      Your you say so

      April 25, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Nomad

      Sounds like Cynic has missed the point. You are uninformed. You say people do not like immigrants. Where do you get that info. This is about "illegal" immigration. The law is being broken. These people need to be legal so that the infrastructure can support them with services.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • lucy

      I suppose you mean by "what's best for this country" is to allow illegals to take over, the Mexican illegals goal 'the silent take over of America' while they fleece our resources to do it. You are no proud American.

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

    I believe in immigration. This country was built on it. Legal immigration. Let me quote Teddy.

    "In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

    Theodore Roosevelt 1907

    April 25, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Veronica

      Wow...this takes care of the illegals and the so called African-Americans.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Redneck

    In most ways I agree with the laws. The problems with immagration has caused a spike in crime and has taken tax dollars from citizens that are paying them to better their comunity; while the illegal immigrants are paying little to none. They are also using our over complex welfare system to get money that could be used to improve schools, roads, comunity centers, .... If we could find a way to even it out were everyone pays their fair share and track illegal immigrants that are criminals better I would not care and consider the issue solved. But "we" have not so; for now i support the laws set forth to protect it's tax paying residents and anyother state that would do so.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
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