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. zaglossus

    These folks who oppose every effort to limit or stop illegal immigration, yet claim they are against illegal immigration, only that they "don’t think anybody has the answer for that yet” as Mr. Paez says (or who are looking for the mirage of the "Comprehensive Solution") are just hypocrites: they're actually for illegal immigration.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Unit34AHunter

    We must deport all illegal immigrants.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Who

    I say we can hire those 'you know who' to build a Great Wall along the boarder, that is wilder (can't climb over), longer (can't go around) & deeper (can't go under) than that one in China. With cameras, sensors on top, this new Great Wall could become a tour attractions too. Make money, solve job problems, once for all.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jay12312

    Time for Sergio Paez to start baking hot dog buns.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. landowner

    Who would have thought !!
    I bet that there will also be a reduction is sales of Hot Sauce and Tamales as well......
    Just post a required payment of $50K and you can become a 'fast track' immigrant.....

    Lets see CNN post the cost of supporting an illegal family of 15........include welfare, footstamps, medical, and schools.....

    April 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jimmer

    “The law affected the immigrant population dramatically,”

    No.............The law affected the ILLEGAL immigrant population dramatically

    April 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. GotaClue

    To Blah blah blah. Yeah and the immigrants who built the Brooklyn Bridge, Hoover Dam, etc. came here LEGALLY. They came here, registered with the government, had their papers in hand and didn't have to hide or steal other's ID's because they were here LEGALLY. Their kids didn't have to live in fear of their parent's deportation and could freely attend school in any part of the country they wanted to because they were here LEGALLY. Do you not know or understand the differencebetween LEGAL and ILLEGAL? Oh yeah. And they learned to speak English too. Every one of them.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • semper fi

      ha! they were handed papers as they came to NY. So are you saying we should just hand over papers to immigrants now?? And im sure everyone of them spoke English?! haha you should work for Fox News.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jj

      Cnn could u spread any more propaganda? Latina votes equal a victory for Obama. Simple as that. So CNN just say what u really mean. My gf from Mexico city even agrees with me

      April 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. TDiddy

    cnn is a joke...their minority pandering is crazy...illegals don't have neilson boxes. every illegal alien should feel scared and persecuted. start ripping these illegal alien families apart. obama doesn't want to do anything about it, so the states should, if the states don't, the legal citizens should...

    April 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    Audrey, you are aware that Congress does not pay for their health care for either for themselves or their families, and this is a perk they get for LIFE, even after they leave the office, right?
    They don't give a whit about it, as they never have to worry about it.
    You are also aware that it is based on Romneycare, right?
    You are aware that there are far more deportations under Obama than under the previous administration, right?
    C'mon, now.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Unit34AHunter

    The funny thing is that all the Latinista ethnic nationalists, La Raza, and Azatlan wackoes, will tell you that SB1070 has had "no deterrante effect" on illegals coming to Arizona and therefore that it "solves nothing." And yet, they'll admit that "fear" is causing them to leave.

    SB 1070 has been *outstanding* for Arizona. Bad for Mexican ethnic nationalists and communists but good for Arizonans in general.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • semper fi

      mexicans? sorry but I am of mexican desent and legal..thanks for your racist remark.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mudbone9

    *** News Flash ***
    Arizona illegal immigration law forces tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to flee the state lowering the crime rate, lowering taxes and providing tens of thousands of badly needed jobs for real Americans. In related news CNN sux.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mudbone9

    *** News Flash ***
    Arizona illegal immigration law forces tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to flee the state lowering the crime rate, lowering taxes and providing tens of thousands of badly needed jobs for real Americans.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Yup, and putting the burden on other states. I bet the liberals will change their tune when their taxes have to be raised to accommodate the uncontrolled influx of people.

      April 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rudolph

    There is NO rationale argument that amnesty or open borders are good for America. Those in favor are:

    statist politicians selling out America for illegal votes (ie Chuck Schumer)
    corrupt businesses capitalizing on an underground economy
    illegal aliens and families

    April 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    If left un checked and unregulated illegal immigrants can and do over burden the educational and health care system in the communities in which they settle. The financial burden is then passed to the taxpayers in that local community. Usually less affluent cities bear the cost if education. While the immigrants perform work in more affluent communities that bear no burden of cost but take full advantage of the benefits of less expensive labor.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Itwasmahem

    Our emergency rooms were overcrowded with illegals and their sick children, most of whom did not pay for their healthcare. We end up paying for it with higher health care costs. Crime was higher. The illegals were getting paid in cash, not paying into the tax system and taking jobs from legal citizens because they would work for much less. The schools were overcrowed and many of the children could not speak English so we had to teach them because of federal law. The federal government was not and still is not enforcing illegal immigration the way it should. We don't want illegals in this country or in the State of Arizona. You are welcome here if you come here legally and contribute to society and pay taxes like everyone else.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
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