Growing Fears, Little Reform on Immigration

Arizona's tough immigration law drew plenty of protesters when it passed one year ago. Now businesses are noting there are fewer legal and illegal immigrants in the state.Congressional action on immigration reform remains stalled and now states such as Arizona are revisiting their immigration statutes, with some startling conclusions. Some states, such as Utah, are unexpectedly taking a different tack that assumes an immigration reform stalemate will continue into the future.

While Arizona Governor Jan Brewer believes her state will be vindicated for enacting Senate Bill 1070 that generated national headlines, others aren't so sure. The Arizona Republic editorialized April 23 on the 1-year anniversary of the law's enactment that it was an "expensive, colossal mistake." Arizona businesses report significant losses as a result of commercial boycotts.

Even though significant parts of SB 1070 such as its profiling provisions were tossed out in court, the tenor of the legislation has intensified fears among migrants, including ones in the United States legally. Hispanic workers were common in many restaurants and retail outlets. Now many of those workers have left for employment in other states. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates Arizona's undocumented population shrunk over the last three years from 500,000 to 400,000.

Clint Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing for Hickman Farms, the largest egg producer in Arizona, said his company's sales to grocery stores that cater to Latinos dropped 20 percent after passage of SB 1070. "Eggs are not easily substituted," Hickman said. "It was a loss caused because the people weren't there any more to buy eggs."

An earlier anti-immigration measure, which required all businesses to use E-Verify to check for undocumented workers, also took an economic toll on the state, says Tom Res of Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. Fewer undocumented workers were able to get jobs and, therefore, the state lost income tax revenue. The state also lost sales tax revenues from Hispanic workers and families who left Arizona.

Not everyone is upset. Rep. John Kavanagh, a main sponsor of SB 1070, said the law proved to be an effective deterrent. He said many of the impacts of the legislation resulted from misleading or untrue descriptions of what it actually did. Yet, Kavanagh was unapologetic about the effect. "It makes me feel good. Mr. Hickman will have to have less hens. I am not going to maintain a large population of illegal immigrants who drain our economy and cost us in benefits just so Mr. Hickman can sell 20 percent more eggs."

Whatever the retrospective on E-Verify requirements and SB 1070, Arizona lawmakers didn't agree to a new round of immigration legislation. They failed to pass this year bills to require hospital personnel to notify immigration authorities of patients they suspect are illegal immigrants and end birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants born in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Utah legislature has approved a guest worker program, in recognition of the need for Latino workers in the state. New Mexico and Washington allow undocumented workers to obtain driver's licenses. Efforts in both states this year to impose restrictions appears likely to fail. The Oregon Senate approved on a bipartisan vote a bill to give children of illegal immigrants who graduated from high schools here access to in-state college tuition rates.

Not to be overlooked, new Census data shows persons of Hispanic descent now account for almost 16 percent of the U.S. population and is the fastest growing minority group in the country. As states undertake congressional and legislative redistricting, Latino voter influence will grow. Their growing fears about anti-immigrant sentiments and legislation will surely influence where they live and who they vote for in the future.