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. theresa

    If, after 10 years, a couple can be "common law" married, why can't an immigrant who has worked at jobs that no American would do for 18 years AND PAID THEIR TAXES on almost no money earned, not be declared "naturalized' and get the same benefits all the rest of us, who didn't have to work all those years to prove our worth receive?

    April 25, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
    • JC

      "why can't an immigrant who has worked at jobs that no American would do for 18 years AND PAID THEIR TAXES on almost no money earned, not be declared "naturalized' "

      Because of Republicans.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joel

    It's funny that CNN doesn't say that illegal immigration is itself "divisive," or that the people who support taking tax money from American citizens and giving it as welfare and Section 8 housing to people who are here illegally are being "divisive," or that illegal immigrants who commit crime including murder are being "divisive."

    April 25, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • oldbear60

      sell it brother. CNN is pushing it' s own political agenda which is basically anti-white and anti middle class.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Typical Conservative misdirection. Evidently you are for legitimate businesses run by American citizens being treated like illegal Immigrants.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Typical Conservative misdirection. Evidently you are for legitimate businesses run by American citizens being treated like illegal Immigrants.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      The issue here is not just the apprehension of illegal immigrants committing crimes but the broader aspect which is SB-1070 leading to the profiling, harrassing and interrogating of legal law abiding, hard working tax paying Americans of Mexican and latin origin! That is the problem here! This law authorizes the police to profile, stalk, harrass and stop any person they feel may be here illegally! That is the wrong way to go! I believe the best way to deal with illegal immigration is to get all members of congress on the same consensus in finding better ways to secure our borders! The Obama administration has been successful in deporting thousands of illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes in America! That's a start! But to start rounding up people because we suspect that they may commit a crime in the future is the wrong way to go because it is risky for our citizens and their love ones and it destroys the lives of our good citizens! Let's start by doing a better job at securing the border!

      April 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. Anonymous010

    “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.

    One can only hope. If you love it here so much, then why don't you apply for a visa and set yourself on the path to legal citizenship? It's not like Mexicans are not allowed to live in the US; there's just a set procedure they have to follow. Disregard that procedure and you should be subject to deportation or even jail time.

    As for the bleeding hearts who want to provide these criminals with a legal path to become a citizen, you don't give a thief or a murderer a legal way to avoid their sentence. This is no different. They broke the law and there are consequences for that.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |

      i agree. enough is enough. i welcome anyone who comes here legally. those are the ones we need

      April 25, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. Richard

    So WHAT if it hurt one sector of the economy? It's serving the greater good, and supporting hoards of skilless humans when you economy overall is very weak is a LOSING game. Turf the illegals.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. J.R. Golski

    - “Leaving the country would be leaving my home and I believe that I am an American.” -

    What you believe doesn't matter, Mario. The fact of the matter is, you are NOT an American. And since you have resided here illegally for so long, you will never be an American. That's the way the cookie crumbles. So take your top-notch education back to your country of origin and make it a better place, mmmkay?

    - “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. -

    That's what happens when you base your business model on servicing a demographic that consists primarily of criminals, Mr. Paez. Better luck in your next venture.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. AZLib

    Living here in Phoenix I can testify just how nutty this all is... For YEARS business owners used illegal mexican workers from farms, hotels, golf resorts, construction etc. The city of Phoenix actually built day labor shelters so they would not stand in the hot sun... then the republican needed a wedge issue so they turned to good old fashion racism. Keep in mind that one of the largest contributors to the GOP in AZ is the private prison business (big donations). The private prison business gets upwards of $200 a day to hold a suspected illegal... because only Fed agents could arrest and detail a suspect their business (private prisons) were limited on new income by the amount of Fed agents.... so the big part of the law was to enable local sherrif and police officer to arrest and detain suspected illegals thus giving them (private prisons) more business (tax payer dollars by the way) where they now house the illegals for up to 6 months awaiting deportation... talk about a big dollar win for republicans... their donners get more tax money, they have a wedge issue that near equals abortion to bring out their voters. The Gov & state law makers fuled by this money have made a mountain out of a mole hill about such. There was a law passed to fine and even close business that provide them with jobs, that law is now idle as it forces republican business owners to go by the rules and they don't like that... the illegals are not coming here for the weather.. take away jobs and they wont come... nope the arrest issue is to fund private prisons.

    Just last week a young man of dark skin ran a stop sign.. he was detained, required to show his social security card and was taken to the station to be finger printed. Had he had blonde hair he would have just received a traffic ticket.

    1070 will legalize racism to anybody who has brown skin and voilations are occuring her daily.

    Next issue. Because there are in fact illegals here they are now underground and when they are attacked, robbed rapped etc. they can no longer call police. This is brining rise to criminal mafia to provide protection from such. So this law is actually creating a larger problem by now funding terrible people to provide private police forces in the barro areas.

    The cost for labor is going up so the costs associated with summgling are rising thus providing even more cash to crimminals. All this because of a get out the racism vote from republicans.

    Is this truly what you want? Keep in mind 20 years from now the Whites will be moving to the minority position... what if in 50 years the law makers start hurting whites? Then what?

    April 25, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Thank God for small favors

      Fortunately your type of twisted reasoning is in the minority.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Unit34AHunter

      Feel free to leave any time.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. oldbear60

    I'm truly sorry if a citizen of the US or a LEGAL immigrant is being hurt by enforcing immigration laws. As to the men, women and children who are here illegally-GET OUT !!!. If the US is so important to you learn the language, assimilate the culture and become one with us. Most immigrants are only interested in the free medical, housing and food and a social security pension they can take back to their mother country. And that's many of the legal ones.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. The real deal

    "Arizona law hurts wallets" screams CNN's pandering headline.

    What really hurts wallets is illegals sucking up social services and benefits without paying their part.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. BLD


    There is a long process to go through to LEGALLY enter this country – regardless of where illegals are from, they should have to go through the process jsut like everyone else. Why should things be different for some than for others?

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

    “This law tells people that Arizona does not welcome illegals, plain and simple. You can come at your own risk or go somewhere else.”
    Exactly..we have been saying this for a long time. What part of the message do they not get?
    The primary responsibility for creating economic opportunity for Mexicans is the Mexican government.
    The very first act of Mexicans when they enter this country illegally is to commit a crime! There is a pathway to US citizenship and millions have availed themselves of it. It’s called getting in line. What would he say to those who took the legal path? You people are fools!

    April 25, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. K

    It's starting in Northeast Ohio! Illegal immigrants are working at the landscaping companies. As soon as they heard of the crackdown the Illegal immigrants started hiding in churches! However, the Feds are cracking down! They fined these companies and deported the illegal immigrants! Deport, deport, deport!

    April 25, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bob

    Yep, just another CNN pro Illegal Alien article.....Give it up CNN we want E-Verify made mandatory nationwide thus ending all this BS and making you finally shut up.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. citizen


    April 25, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      We have quotas.
      That's why people try to get in here illegally, because it takes TIME to get here legally, and they do not want to wait.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. MMM

    Sucks for this man's business but ILLEGAl is ILLEGAL. I worked for a landscape design and contracting firm. We had workers in our constructions division who would claim like 13 people on their taxes just so they didn't have to pay as much. They had no family here and were sending the money they did make back to their family's in Mexico. Would they file a return? I don't know. All I do know is that now the state is taking forever getting our tax returns to us because of tax fraud on the part of illegals. It was in a press release two weeks ago. Another thing I do know is that the money those illegals were making wasn't staying here in the US. Did my bosses have a problem with this, no. But they wouldn't hire American's coming in for work. The had education and too much experience and would want more than minimum wage. So they would opt to pay some one who was happy with the minimum wage as a supervisor. To me, that is screwing over the US. IF the illegals weren't here, they would have had to pay the US citizens for their work just like other company's do. Needless to say I am no longer working there. It made me sick.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  15. Serfs

    No. Can't find serfs, either.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
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