Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Arizona Immigration Law Threatens all Immigrants…and the State Economy

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The clock is now ticking for enactment of SB 1070—Arizona’s new law that makes the state the country’s most regressive in how it treats all immigrants, not just the undocumented. What can Arizonans expect? Besides the inevitable racial profiling that is to result, the economic consequences will be grave for a state that already faces a budget deficit of at least $1.4 billion this year.

When it goes into effect—90 days after the legislative session ends, or likely mid-late summer—SB 1070 mandates law enforcement to “determine the immigration status” of a person “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” It also makes it illegal to transport somebody who may be unauthorized to be in the U.S. and it builds on previous Arizona law in punishing employers who may unknowingly have undocumented workers.

The effects of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act are anything but what the law’s title says it will do. In fact, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill saying it could erode trust with immigrants and would distract police from dealing with more serious problems.

The result: Arizona will drive out business, push out its immigrant workforce and spend the next few years spending tax-payer dollars fighting legal challenges. Of course, that’s not to mention how it will harm every one of the state’s 1.96 million Latinos, a number that represents 30.1 percent of the state population according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This law goes far beyond targeting the undocumented population. By giving law enforcement the power to question the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the state without authorization—and mandating that immigrants carry their papers on them—it will lead to gross violations and fear among all immigrants and Latinos in general that they may be the victims of police harassment at any moment.

Maybe Governor Brewer—who has put Arizona’s Latinos and others at risk of profiling and harassment—will finally get the wake-up call when her state loses jobs and tax revenue from this bill.

Immigrants in Arizona and across the U.S. are important engines of economic growth. In 2004, the consumer spending power of immigrant-headed households totaled $10.5 billion according to the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona. This supported approximately 66,500 full-time jobs and generated $776 million in tax revenues. The Udall Center further estimates that immigrant workers contributed $2.4 billion in state tax revenue that year. Arizona, with its clear message of “you’re not welcome,” now stands to lose a significant portion of these positive economic gains.

And what about Latinos overall? The racial profiling that is likely to be caused by this bill will creep into the everyday lives of all Latinos—either due to profiling or the fear of profiling. This is a population that is critical to Arizona’s future prosperity at a time of economic uncertainty.

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, Arizona ranked seventh among the 50 states in regard to the buying power of the state’s Latinos—$30.9 billion in 2009. This marked a 112 percent increase in Latino buying power from 2000 to 2009. But this thriving Latino population is once again being sent the message that they and any friends and family who are foreign born are not welcome.

Add to that the costs of defending this new law, with the first challenge potentially coming from its largest city. On Friday, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon responded to Brewer’s signing of the law by saying that on Tuesday he will be “putting an item on the [City Council] agenda to authorize the city attorney to prepare a lawsuit to file on the grounds that it’s [SB 1070] unconstitutional.”

Other localities and states that have passed even less stringent measures have spent years and millions of dollars defending their anti-immigrant bills according to the National Employment Law Project. In Hazelton, Pennsylvania, the city’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act was successfully challenged and the city was asked to reimburse the plaintiffs $2.4 million in attorney fees. And in Riverside, New Jersey, the 8,000-person town spent $82,000 in taxpayer money in legal fees defending an anti-immigrant ordinance before rescinding it. Now Arizonans may be paying for Phoenix to fight the state.

Business will be driven from Arizona too. Representative Raul Grijalva (AZ) has called oncivic, religious, labor, Latino, organizations of color to refrain from using Arizona as a convention site, to refrain from spending their dollars in the state of Arizona until Arizona turns the clock forward instead of backwards and joins the rest of the union.” Boycotts are also being called for the state’s largest tourist attraction, the Grand Canyon.

Arizona’s legislation is anti-immigrant and anti-American and the economic effects will soon hit the pocketbooks of all Arizonans. Now more than ever is the time for national leaders to act and pass sensible comprehensive immigration reform. We cannot let Arizona be the wave of the future.

*Jason Marczak is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He is senior editor of Americas Quarterly, managing editor of AmericasQuarterly.org and director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.


Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He previously served as senior editor of Americas Quarterly and director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Tags: Arizona, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, immigrants, Latinos, SB 1070, Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act
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