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. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    There are a lot of "illegal Americans" in Mexico also but nobody talks about that not even Mexico.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. NorCalMojo

    Study we won't get to see:

    Effects of the law on the wages of the working poor. Without a limitless supply of unskilled labor, did wages rise? Without the glut of low income renters, did low income rents drop?

    We won't see that study.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I'll take an illegal immigrant over Ted Nugent, GWB, Dick Cheyney, Donald Rumsfeld and the likes of Rush Limbaugh any day!

    April 25, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Unit34AHunter

      I'd have any of them rather than an illegal immigrant in my neighborhood if given a choice.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack the Ripper

      @Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer, AMEN BROTHER!

      April 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |

      That's Fine...move yourself to Mexico, then,where you belong. If you ever had a Brother MURDERED by an illegal, who escaped back to Mexico, I wonder if you'd feel ant different.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • rdm

      and that right there is the problem with this country. You'd take a criminal over a fellow American. God help us

      April 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      LMAO! Now that was funny!

      April 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John

    I know its off subject but I just had to post it..... "two nyc cops fire 84 shots after suspect fires once at them."

    What's funny is 84 shots and the suspect was hit twice and survived????? lol and where did the other 80 shots go???

    Some cops need some target practice.. 😉

    April 25, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Two cops..... 84 shots? Not too excessive.... that has to be a new world record for 2people returning fire.

      April 25, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • joquan

      2 white cops shooting at one black teenager. the first 82 shots missed.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guillermo

      2 police + 82 bullets = 41 shots each, I want one of those 41 shooter guns.
      Must buy them where the outlaw Black Bart bought his 41 shot Colt 45 pistol.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Each cop used 3 fifteen round clips, plus one in the chamber. One cop had one round left and the other had 7 rounds left.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. NorCalMojo

    Next we'll see a story about a slumlord crying about how he's losing money and can't get away with gouging his residents anymore.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  6. Txtwister

    We don't want 'em in Texas either.

    April 25, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©

    Totally off topic, but nice nod to "Married With Children".

    April 25, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jim

    CNN you've got to be kidding....

    Hurting his tortilla business???
    That's how far you need to stretch to find fault with the law?

    April 25, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • me

      CNN is attempting to block all my comments because they do not like my political views, no hate. JUST EXPLAINING NDAA 2012 to everyone.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. theresa

    they have bankrupted ca....they take all the jobs......but dont pay taxes
    the anchor baby gets schooling/medical/foodstamps
    uses the library-roads-parks....does not contribute

    April 25, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • latuya83

      How do they take all the jobs. When you were growing up all you wanted to be was a farm hand, maid, gardener? Those are the jobs that they are taking, they are not taking jobs from college grads or high school grads for that matter. If an illegal is taking your job then you are a drop out and I have no sympathy for you. EDUCATE YOUR SELF, AND NO ONE WILL TAKE YOUR JOB.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CaptainMiddleFinger

    Well, how am I going to hire people to cut my yard for $20 without the immigrants. Better get to Sears now because the white man certainly will not.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • NorCalMojo

      If you're too lazy to mow your own lawn you should get a condo.

      April 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rick

    Numbersusa is a scam. Beware.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Guillermo

    Let the United States adapt the Mexican Immigration Laws and enforce them as Mexico does!
    Ask any of the people coming into Mexico's southern border how the Mexican government and Mexican citizens accept them!
    If its good enough for Mexico its good enough for the United States.

    Write your representatives in your state capitol and in Washington and tell them we want Mexican type of immigration laws.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Unit34AHunter

    SB 1070 has caused a 14% reduction in violent crime and a 20% reduction in property crime, as compared with a national decline of 5% in the same interval. The lesson is clear. Illegal immigrants view the United States as an exlpoitable resource to be plundered, regardless of the law. Deport them all. Preferably to southern Mexico so that their next journey across the border will be more costly and dangerous for them.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. earl snyder

    I worked for a painting contractor in New Orleans in the 80's.Any employee claiming over 5 dependents were made to show Birth Certificates for verification. If you claimed exempt, they called the IRS. Companies need to do that now.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Phil

    While I do have some sympathy for Mario, he did not make the choice himself to break the law. He was brought to the US as a two year old. BUT, it is his parents to blame, not the state of Arizona. They were the ones that chose to enter the United States illegally. Now as an adult, he has made his choice to continue to break the law. Of course there will be businesses that will suffer because they have been able to make their money off these criminals (that is what most people call those that are knowingly breaking the law) for years.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
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