Arizona Risks Jeopardizing its Economic Future as it Contemplates Passing Anti-Immigrant Law

This week, the Arizona Senate passed the nation's most draconian immigration law -  which criminalizes the undocumented and those accused of assisting them - that many critics say will drive racial profiling and further undermine Arizona's devastated economy.  The bill now awaits now awaits Governor Jan Brewer's veto or approval. Advanced by anti-immigrant leader State Sen. Russell Pearce, SB 1070 would:

  • make it a state crime to be undocumented and to seek work, including on street corners, in Arizona; 
  • allow state police and other law enforcement officers to arrest anyone without a warrant based upon "reasonable suspicion" that they are undocumented and notify federal immigration agents;
  • make it a crime to impede traffic while attempting to hire a day laborer in the street; 
  • bar state, city, and county officials from limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws, and allow anyone in the state to sue an official or law enforcement agency they believe is not enforcing the state's anti-immigrant law (with a provision to deter some frivolous lawsuits); and
  • impose a financial penalty on anyone who harbors or transports an undocumented immigrant - including family members. 

Arizona is the first state in the nation to seek to criminalize all of its undocumented residents who have not committed any crime other than lacking immigration status.

Arizona Leaders Denounce Bill:  Leaders from Arizona's faith-based communities and organizations, business leaders and law enforcement officers have also spoken out against the bill, noting it will: hurt both employers and their employees statewide; erode community-policing practices by generating widespread fear in immigrant communities of all law enforcement officers; and discourage immigrant residents from reporting crimes or serving as witnesses for fear of being deported.  Immigrant and civil rights activists warn that the bill provides a free pass for state and local police officers to engage in racial profiling by stopping anyone who appears Latino or to be an immigrant; members of a national organization of police officers just announced their opposition to the bill and urged other states not to follow Arizona's lead.

The public response to the bill has been overwhelming: according to Governor Brewer's office, as of Monday they received 11,931 calls, faxes, and e-mails in opposition to the bill and only 1,356 calls, faxes and e-mails expressing support.  Immigrant rights activists, led by Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, delivered another 50,000 petitions to Brewer's office Tuesday expressing opposition to the bill.  Brewer has yet to signal her decision, giving hope to some activists.  She has until Saturday, April 25 to sign the bill, or can ultimately allow the bill to become law without her signature -  if she does not veto it.  Brewer faces a tough election race this year, and many believe her indecision on the bill hinges on political calculations related to state voters' attitudes toward immigrants and immigration.

The Economic Costs of Anti-Immigrant Policies:  Arizona has been pursuing an increasingly anti-immigrant approach over the last few years, yet it faces the highest loss of employment in the nation and some of the highest foreclosure rates. Many estimate the bill will just make matters worse with immigrant families and businesses fleeing Arizona in response, further devastating the state's economy by costing the state up to $26.4 billion in economic activity.  This is likely to further weaken the state's troubled housing market; and business leaders warn that losing those residents will decrease much-needed sales and property tax revenues.  

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the ACLU  are expected to challenge the bill in court, noting it will encourage racial profiling against the state's Latino and immigrant residents.  Business leaders warn that costly legal challenges to the bill will not help reduce the state's current $3 billion budget deficit and will result in billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Confronting Anti-Immigrant Demagoguery:  Senator Pearce, a former state trooper who has introduced enforcement-only immigration legislation for nearly a decade in Arizona, has made anti-immigrant politics a personal crusade, has also been linked to neo-Nazi groups.  Pearce was previously vilified by some Republican and Democratic colleagues for his extreme and often-vitriolic stances on immigration, and he introduced a bill similar to SB 1070 during former Governor Janet Napolitano's tenure, which she vetoed.  Napolitano is now Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and is responsible for developing national immigration policy. 

Leaders across the country are stepping up to confront these anti-immigrant attacks.  State legislators from over twenty states have worked with Progressive States Network to form State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy (SLPIP) to directly challenge these attacks in the states.  Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a PSN Board Member and State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy (SLPIP) leader, confronted bill supporter Maricopa County  Sheriff Joe Arpaio on CNN yesterday over the issue.  Watch the debate online by clicking on the image below.

Arizona has a unique political dynamic and demographics that may be leading it down this destructive road, one reminiscent of California's anti-immigrant legislation of the 1990s.  Arizona, ground zero for unauthorized border crossings from Mexico into the US, has seen its undocumented population surge by over 40% in the past decade, largely fueled by the state's housing boom and a growing number of service sector jobs assisting its aging baby boomer residents.  Yet the state's demographics do not mirror its electorate: Latinos account for 30% of the state's population, yet are only 11.7% of the electorate, according to Census data.

A More Effective Alternative:  Despite Arizona's punitive approach toward immigration, many other states are pursuing far more sensible policies to integrate immigrants into local communities and economies.  We detailed many of these effective approaches being pursued around the country in our Dispatch piece, State Immigration Policy to Promote National Change in January.  Most states won't want to follow the misguided and potentially economically disastrous example  set by  SB 1070.

More on the Economic Effects of the Bill:  Immigrants and Latinos are critical to Arizona's economy. According to a University of Arizona study, the state's immigrant workers generated $44 billion in economic output in 2004 and sustained roughly 400,000 full-time jobs.  The state's more than 35,000 Latino-owned businesses generated $4.3 billion in economic activity and were responsible for over 39,000 state jobs in 2002, the last year for which such data is available.

Business leaders warn enacting SB 1070 will result in immigrants (including those with legal status or US citizenship who have undocumented family members) leaving the state - thereby decreasing sales and property tax revenues statewide.The Perryman Group estimates that if all undocumented residents were removed from Arizona, the state would lose:

  • $26.4 billion in economic activity;
  • $11.7 billion in gross state product; and
  • approximately 140,324 jobs.

Arizona's Politics:  Many of the state's non-citizen Latinos are immigrants who arrived in the state over the past decade and have yet to make their way through the citizenship process and become voters.  Political scientists and academics note many of the state's white voters have a "libertarian, Old West mentality" and tend to vote conservatively, supporting Phoenix's anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- who is currently being investigated by the US Department of Justice for his decision to use sheriff's deputies to enforce immigration laws.

Several analyses of the federal 287(g) program, which advocates note also encourages racial profiling, have found the program is often costly and ineffective.  Most undocumented residents apprehended through the program in North Carolina, for example, were only guilty of misdemeanors such as traffic violations - at a cost of $5.5 million annually to the state's Mecklenburg County.  County Supervisors in Virginia's Prince William County decided to not implement the portion of their local immigration legislation that deputized local police officers to enforce immigration laws after they realized the price tag for the initiative would amount to at least $14 million over five years.

Meanwhile, demographers note the number of undocumented residents in the nation as a whole has decreased by roughly 1 million in the past two years due to the economic downturn, which has hit the construction, restaurant, and service industries particularly hard - all employment sources for many undocumented immigrants.  Other states that have seen a significant increase among their undocumented residents include Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Illinois, and North Carolina.

Immigration Policy Center - How Much Will Arizona's Immigration Bill (SB 1070) Cost?
Border Action Network - Russell Pearce's SB 1070: Why It's Bad for Arizona and How YOU Can Fight It
Immigration Policy Center - New Americans in the Grand Canyon State
Progressive States Network - The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed: Positive Integration Policies by States Still Far Outweigh Punitive Policies
Progressive States Network - Secret Deportation Quotas, Program Failures, and High Budget Costs from Local Immigration Enforcement Revealed in Recent Reports
Progressive States Network - State Immigration Policy to Promote National Change