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. Guest

    What people are forgetting to consider is that ALL OF THIS wouldn't be an issue if people obeyed the law. If you are not a citizen here, then DON'T TRESPASS. It is very simple actually.

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

    Yeah, if we were gamemakers from the Capitol in a Hunger Games book that would be a good idea. But this is a real issue and not fantasy land.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MyTake

    I could not get past the first paragraph ... lol ... Kinda "racist" to say a tortilla business is hurt because of the anti-illegal immigration law ... lol

    April 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mr Dalloway

    It should be duly noted that not one Mexican American should be maligned by this broken immigrantion fiasco.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Spence

    Technically, the law tears apart families that are breaking the law. How come no one gets upset when someone commits murder and has to go to prison and their family is broken up.

    This isn't about immigration. It's about illegal immigration and criminals that put their families into a situation where they are likely (sic) to get separated. Stop blaming America for the ills that are caused by an aggressive and cancerous group of people that are importing organized crime and every other kind of ill into America.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Guest

    This bears repeating: What people are forgetting to consider is that ALL OF THIS wouldn't be an issue if people obeyed the law. If you are not a citizen here, then DON'T TRESPASS. It is very simple actually.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bob

    OK, can we talk about mexico's immigration policy? Journalism is truly dead at CNN.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. o2psd4me

    Artical said “This law tells people that Arizona does not welcome illegals, plain and simple. You can come at your own risk or go somewhere else.”

    Key word "illegals"

    April 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. 1twinsfan

    Arizona has only been a state for 100 years. Just a hundred, 02/14/1912. It's common to find families there where Spanish is the only language spoken in the home and maybe no one even knows English. A lot of people are saying this law is okay – that all one has to do is carry their papers. American citizens don't have papers. And no, a DL is not required in the US except for driving a car and even then, citzeinship isn't noted on it. I don't worry about getting stopped in AZ because I'm white bread but why should my Hispanic hubby, born and bred in Tucson, have to worry simply because he's tan? Don't say this law is okay simply you're unlikely to be affected negatively by it. Stand up against your fellow citizens from being racially profiled.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Why won't you stand up for your COUNTRY? The reason hispanics are the target of increased enforcement is because 99.99999999999% of the illegals are hispanic. Maybe YOU like the fact that 60 hospitals had to close in the LA basin because they provided FREE healthcare to illegals. Maybe YOU like the fact that your taxes are higher to support the large prison polulation of ILLEGALS. Maybe YOU like the fact that the school systems are dragged down by illiterate ILLEGAL families forcing their way in.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Thank you! Its so sad that in a country where we proclaimed to be the land of the FREE, we're now treating our citizens like criminals and forcing them to walk around with ID's! This fony American democracy never ceases to amaze me! Only in America!

      April 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Upton

      As an American citizen, I would happily carry 'papers' if it meant we could check to ensure everyone was an American citizen. Just recently and illegal immigrant killed a legal resident in a drunken driving accident. It was the 3rd DUI the illegal had received, he had no DL and no insurance. Why are people like this not sent back to Mexico the 1st time they are arrested?

      April 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • m.s.

      if someone is driving a car, they should have a DL. Duh. If they don't, they're illegally driving. That's criminal. If they're illegally driving AND in this country illegally, they need to be deported. I don't care WHAT nationality they are...bye-bye!

      April 25, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    This law is all political and nothing else! For example, following passage of SB-1070 in 2011, Governor Janet Brewer argued that this legislation was drafted and passed because the Obama administration wasn't doing enough to address the illegal immigration situation and border security! However, at no point in time did Governor Brewer ever mentioned that the prevous administration under GWB turned the other cheek and ignored border security issues!

    Secondly, prior to passage of this legislation, at no point in time did Governor Brewer and the Arizona legislature ever discussed border security with President Obama or outlined what they wanted from the President! Furthermore, to expect President Obama to solve all the immigration issues in two years is simply ignoring the fact that the President had just been elected and his hands were tied with two deadly and costly wars and an economic crisis, not to mention a mountain hill of opposition from the right who said it was their goal to see the President and America fail! Yet, within two and a half years, the Obama administration had been successfull is deporting thousands of illegal immigrants with criminal records, more than GWB got off our soil in 8 years! Hypocrisy!

    April 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • NorCalMojo

      How can you say that when Arizona is seeing such immediate results?

      I think you just hate poor people and make your money off exploiting them. You don't want to pay a living wage, so you demonize poor people.

      Your tag is a give-away.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. littleblackcar

    If your living is based on illegal immigrants and their labor and/or business, it's not an "honest living", is it? Yes, there will be a shock and an adjustment period, but the economy can reset itself to function without them, and the rest of us will be better off not having to compete for dismal wages and crowded schools.

    April 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    @Paul

    Well, if 99.9% of illegal immigrants in America are Hispanics, perhaps its because 99.9% of the American Southwest belongs to them!

    April 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • NorCalMojo

      The idea that certain lands belong to certain ethnic groups is EXTREMELY dangerous. Did you learn nothing in history? That philosophy resulted in 10's of millions of deaths in the 1930's.

      It's time to drag yourself out of your cave and join us in the 21st century.

      April 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      The US South West does not belong to Mexico, it belongs to the US and it is recognized by the UN to be so. Mexicans need to stop living in the past and realize that the reason Americans do not want them here is because they indeed want to change the US South West into Mexico. This isn't an immigration issue, it's an invasion issue. : )

      April 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Paul

    Seems to me tha only businesses being hurt by this law are ones that depend on CRIMINALS (illegals). The only families torn apart by this law are those with CRIMINALS (illegals).

    April 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      There are also people of other races and ethnicity committing all sorts of outrageous crimes in America every day!

      April 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Lburk

    Don't believe a damn thing CNN puts out about Arizona. (Ruben Navarrette read this. I have lived where you have here and in SoCal) Being a resident here for only a few years coming from southern California, most agree with SB 1070. National polls bear this out. All the SB 1070 laws do is give the law enforcement in our state the ability to enforce the laws that the federal government is unable or unwilling to enforce. It is ridiculous how many times you hear that a crime here and in southern California was committed by an illegal alien. So why is it so hard to understand we want to be protected? It's not just against illegal aliens either. Google the term Hezbollah in Mexico. That's even more scary. I want more security along the border. If someone came here illegally and are caught, they go back home. They should do jail time but we can’t afford that. Sadly, though if they have a family here and it tears that family apart – well they should have thought about that. Every illegal alien is well aware of the consequences of their actions. Quit feeling sorry for them. It's not America nor Americans' fault that we want to be safe. It’s a reasonable request and one of the reasons many want to come from all over the world to live here.

    All that said. Obama get off your butt, stay off multi-million dollar vacations and get something implemented so anyone can come here, after all proper precautions are taken.

    April 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mr Dalloway

    Just end NAFTA!

    April 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
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