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A Year Later, Arizona Still Split Over Immigration

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A Year Later, Arizona Still Split Over Immigration


A Year Later, Arizona Still Split Over Immigration

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And to Arizona now, where it has been one year since the state legislature dropped a bomb into the national debate over immigration. The get-tough bill known as SB 1070 was later signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer.

Governor JAN BREWER (Republican, Arizona): With my unwavering signature on this legislation, Arizona strengthens its security within our borders.

SIEGEL: SB 1070 makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally, and it mandates that local police question the immigration status of anyone they stop for a criminal offense.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

SIEGEL: Demonstrations, boycotts and court cases followed. A year later, some of SB 1070's key components are on hold, but supporters call it a success, and opponents say it has been a disaster for Arizona's image and economy.

Either way, NPR's Ted Robbins says it has changed the state.

TED ROBBINS: About a dozen opponents of SB 1070 have been regulars outside the Senate wing of the Capitol building in Phoenix. They are resolute but low-key compared with the thousands of protestors on the same spot a year ago. That could be because inside the building, legislators like Republican state Senator Steve Pierce now have other priorities.

State Senator STEVE PIERCE (Republican, Arizona): To me, the number one thing we have in the state is our economy. Finding jobs. We had to get the budget out. Doing things for the economy. People are hurting and hurting bad.

ROBBINS: Steve Pierce voted for SB 1070 a year ago. He said Arizona's border security problem needed attention. This year, he and some other Republicans joined Democrats to defeat five new bills aimed at illegal immigrants. Among other things, the new bills would have required schools and hospitals to check immigration status.

State Sen. PIERCE: The bills this year were just more piling on. It was about checking citizenship in a hospital, and I just don't see where checking the citizenship of somebody going into a hospital has anything to do with border security.

ROBBINS: The bills were defeated two days after 50 Arizona business leaders sent a letter to senate president Russell Pearce asking him to back off new state immigration laws. That gave some Republicans cover to vote against the bills. But Russell Pearce - no relation to Steve Pierce - is the architect and chief sponsor of almost all of Arizona's immigration laws.

He isn't backing off anything.

State Senator RUSSELL PEARCE (Republican, Arizona; State Senate President): We're not going to retreat. We will do what we have to do, and I personally will do what I have to do until this invasion is stopped.

ROBBINS: A year in, Russell Pearce says SB 1070 is a success. Federal courts have blocked Arizona from enforcing key parts of the law but allowed other portions to take effect. The law, which helped create an unwelcoming atmosphere for illegal immigrants here, caused an estimated 100 to 200,000 people to leave Arizona in the past year.

State Sen. PEARCE: They were fleeing. I talked to a U-Haul man that has a large U-Haul company, and he said they're doing business better than they've ever done before in their life, in their one way - to Salt Lake City, to Colorado, to other parts of the nation.

ROBBINS: Pearce points to other measures of success: a sharp decrease in violent crime, 500 fewer inmates in state prisons than a year ago and fewer children enrolled in schools, especially in some heavily Hispanic areas. Those numbers are not in dispute. Whether they're all the result of illegal immigrants fleeing is debatable. Democratic state Senator Kyrsten Sinema points out that the makeup of most immigrant families is mixed.

State Senator KYRSTEN SINEMA (Democrat, Arizona): So some of the people in the family are citizens; some of the people in the family are not citizens. But if one person is not, then the whole family may move. And then we lose that revenue, and we lose those future workers.

ROBBINS: So, she says, SB 1070 has been bad for Arizona's economy - in lost workers and lost tourism and convention dollars from continuing boycotts against the state; plus, the hit to Arizona's image caused by negative worldwide media coverage.

State Sen. SINEMA: I was in China and members of the Chinese government were asking me questions about Arizona. That was unpleasant. That was very unpleasant. They were asking, like, what was wrong with our state?

ROBBINS: Supporters say nothing's wrong with Arizona. In fact, SB 1070 was popular with voters in the state and nationwide. SB 1070 has had an impact. Whether you see the impact as positive or negative depends on which side of the issue you're on.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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