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. Ellen

    Can we say. "Diversification of your product line". Don't go crying because your loosing your customer base. You should have explored other products while times were good and you had the $ to do so... .

    April 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ron in NC

    And don't forget those of us who refuse to patronize AZ businesses, have (in my case) moved elsewhere a conference originally scheduled for Phoenix and informed organizers of other conferences that I would not support or attend if it remains scheduled in AZ. The law, as it is being implemented in the Phoenix area, is, according to my friends and relatives there, nothing more than a racially-based hunting license having little to do with immigrants and immigration.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Right on.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DanRyanMan

    No amnesty.
    Deport illegals one after one.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Give it up

    I don't get why CNN doesn't get that not even liberals are going to rally behind this pro-illegal agenda. Any given article the vast majority of comments are to the effect of "illegal immigrants are not good for this country, we're sick of supporting them" and "let's make legal immigration easier, but we shouldn't be handing out amnesty for lawbreakers." Illegal immigrants don't respect our laws or our country, if they did they would go home and apply for visas or residency.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mtbeau

    President Regan said the following in 1984:
    "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally," he said.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I believe Reagan was wrong.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    If illegals were not a problem we wouldn't be having this conversation. Has that occurred to anyone? Deport,deport,deport.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. barbel graham

    what jobs have they taken im sick a tired of all you so called americans spreading hate in this world you go out and cut the grass if you want that job so bad i know i wont do it and if there hap[py doing it so be it the problem is white americans came to this country was lazy wanted cheep labor thought blcks and mexicans and chineese people where going to let them be cheap labor for ever but that didnt work out for you did it so you tried everything in your power to hold thoes people back still not working why do think there is a upward spike in raceism because they scared you cant do all the ugly things thoes people did to make this country and think it was never going to iome back on you yet you still try god did not want this for any race to think there beter than the next white and black need to unite and be kind to each other look out for all people when there down and if they do wrong no mater what race punish the same why cant we getpast all this color stuff it just crazy

    April 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      This has nothing to do with color and everything to do with legality.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • S.M.

      And like all those groups you mention, in a very short time they try to learn enough English to get better jobs in the service industry or factories. If you think they don't try to improve their status just like everyone else you're mistaken. Meat cutting, construction, and factory work were once upon a time, fairly well paid jobs. When you overload the workforce with unskilled or semiskilled labor you drive down the wages. Oh, and sorry but I grew up in the midwest where it was very common for teenagers, me included, to grow up working on farms and doing manual labor in the fields.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mr Dalloway

    I think we should be far more concerned about those Americans who are languishing in prison due to non violent drug offenses.

    April 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Yes, we should be cocerned about that, too.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. coy4one

    Since this whole thing started, I don't go into Arizona, including changing planes in Arizona, nor do I buy products and services from Arizona. I'm white, but I do not believe that Arizona took the right path and its attempt to customize the law for its own benefit is un-American and I cannot support such a State.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      This SB-1070 law was passed one year later and almost to the day of the one year anniversary of passage of the historic healthcare legislation! Ever wonder why this law wasn't introduced and passed at anytime during the 8 year tenure of the GWB's administration? It was clearly a GOP tactic passed as retalliation for the healthcare legislation! And if Etch a sketch was ever to become POTUS, rest assure all our civil liberties would also be taken away too, like the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights legislation that outlawed segeration and allow women and African-Americans the right to vote!

      April 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darrell

      Nonsense. The AZ law mirrors the federal law, but since AZ doesn't have the authority to enforce federal law, they created one they could enforce. Either you not going to AZ is a ruse, or you are not going there for uneducated reasons. The administration is NOT arguing that AZ is going too far in their law, but they created a law at.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaHaofVA

      Un-American... really.. Lock the borders down.. what will it take.. a dirty bomb... If you want to come here and live and work ..GREAT do my my Grandparents did .. come through the front door.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RocketJL

    I have read a lot of the comments and I feel terrible about all of this. I do realize that this situation could become a hundred times worse. Can you visualize Eric Holder, AG, enforcing the nations immigration laws, instead of lying to the people he works for. Good grief, what is this country coming to? Oh by the way, the nuts who bring up 'tearing families apart' are not on my Christmas list. Any parent who even mentions the possibility of leaving their child behind, is not worth spit.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. SPENT

    Illegal..ummm. yes when one breaks the law the possibility of pain and suffering is upon the illegals and their families.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Veronica

    Are we supposed to feel sorry for the lawbreakers who sneak into our country and the employers who hire them? They all are victims by their own design.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Philip

    Is it wise for the majority to STOP enforcing laws just because a signifcant number of the minority break them regularly? Or to change age-old foudation laws on behalf of a minority no-matter the majority?

    April 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    "Slaves", not workers. Workers are covered by workers compensation insurance, social security, unemployment insurance, etc. Slaves never have been, for it is illegal to even try to purchase, say, workers comp insurance on a slave. It is the unAmerican citizen creating this demand for slaves, as has always been the case. Our law enforcement should be going-after US CITIZENS WHO ILLEGALLY HIRE SLAVES AND PAY THEM SLAVE'S WAGES. We should clean US up before before finishing Mexico.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Matt

    Expecting foreigners to respect the immigration laws of your country or be deported is NOT racism!

    April 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
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