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Fearing Ariz. Law, Illegal Immigrants Head To Colo.

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Fearing Ariz. Law, Illegal Immigrants Head To Colo.

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Fearing Ariz. Law, Illegal Immigrants Head To Colo.

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A federal judge has put the most controversial elements of Arizona's immigration law on hold. But that law, which is intended to discourage illegal immigration, may be succeeding anyway. Some illegal immigrants in Arizona have decided it's time to leave - and they're going to Colorado. More than a dozen families have reportedly arrived in that neighboring state in just the last past few weeks. NPR's Jeff Brady paid a visit to one woman who recently arrived in Denver with her three children.

JEFF BRADY: It's a hot day in sketchy neighborhood just outside Denver. In this apartment, there's a pot of beans cooking on the stove and there are only a few dining room chairs to sit in. Speaking through an interpreter, Elia says she left Arizona two weeks back. She doesn't want her last name on the radio for fear of being deported.

ELIA: (Through translator) Well, it was shown on television that if we were walking or if we were on the bus, the police could stop us because our color skin, because we're Hispanic.

BRADY: That's Elia's perception, but it's not true. The Arizona law specifically prohibits racial profiling. It requires police to check immigration status when someone is stopped for another offense, but that's one part of the law that a judge has blocked for now. Still, Elia says she was scared. She'd been working at the same restaurant in Phoenix for six years. But without legal paperwork, her boss said she couldn't stay. She panicked and decided to flee. Elia gave away most of her possessions because she didn't want to draw attention from police on the highway.

ELIA: (Through translator) Yeah, it was like if we were going to have a lot of luggage in our car, it was going to look like we were escaping from Arizona.

BRADY: Elia brought her 18-year-old son, who's already found work in Denver, a 16-year-old daughter, and a six-year-old boy who's watching cartoons.

BRADY: Elia begins to cry as she recounts what she put the boy through. She was afraid to stop during the 19-hour drive to Denver, even for bathroom breaks, so she put a disposable diaper on him.

ELIA: (Spanish spoken)

BRADY: Elia says by the time they arrived in Denver, the boy had a rash. To make up for that she wants to buy him a toy, but she's a single mom without work and there's no money for extras. A few days back, she ran into another family at the laundry. They also recently fled Arizona.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

BRADY: The other family has a six-month-old baby and she invited them to stay with her. Now, nine people are crammed into this one-bedroom apartment.

Elia got the apartment with help from social service groups like the American Friends Service Committee, which is a Quaker organization. Jennifer Piper works on immigration issues for the group. She says it's amazing to think immigrants are fleeing Arizona for Colorado. Just a few years back, Colorado lawmakers passed a series of immigration laws - some of them similar to Arizona's.

Ms. JENNIFER PIPER (American Friends Service Committee): Part of what's surprising in 2010, is to see how quickly we've gone from Colorado's laws being the toughest in the nation, to being laws that another state is competing to outdo.

BRADY: Immigration has been emerging as an issue in the mid-term elections. In Colorado, one of the most vocal immigration critics in the country, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, is now running for governor. He says he doesn't understand why illegal immigrants are fleeing Arizona out of fear.

Former Representative TOM TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): The fear of what? The only thing that can happen is that they can be, you know, identified as being here illegally, and perhaps, at worst, actually be deported because that's the law.

BRADY: Tancredo says someone like Elia should go back to her home country and apply to move here legally. But that could take years and Elia says she needs money, now, to support her family.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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