By Daniel Gonzalez
June 27, 2012
Thousands of undocumented immigrants picked up stakes and left Arizona after Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 two years ago, but with the most sweeping part of the law about to be enforced, another mass exodus is not shaping up. At least for now.
Instead, many undocumented immigrants are preparing to wait to see how the law will be enforced after the Supreme Court on Monday struck down three provisions of the law but let stand the part that requires local police to check the status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.
"I'm going to take a risk and see what happens," said Israel Fernandez, 37, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico City who has lived in the United States for eight years, the past five in Phoenix.
His comments, echoed by many other undocumented immigrants interviewed over the past two days, show a dramatic change from two years ago, when immigrants without papers began packing up, some within hours, after Brewer signed SB 1070.
That is partly because Department of Homeland Security officials said Monday that they were directing immigration-enforcement officials in Arizona not to deport illegal immigrants identified through enforcement of SB 1070 unless they meet the agency's priorities. Since 2011, the agency has focused on deporting illegal immigrants who are dangerous criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration violators.
"I think my chances of being arrested might increase," Fernandez said. "But I don't have a criminal record so I don't think I will be deported."
Two years ago, the Mexican consulate in Phoenix was inundated with immigrants requesting documents to return to Mexico with their U.S. citizen children.
But so far the consulate in Phoenix has not seen a rise in immigrants requesting services, Victor Trevino, the consul general of Mexico in Phoenix,said in a written statement.
"The Consulate General of Mexico continues to operate normally and has not registered an increased demand in the services we provide to our nationals," Trevino said. "Nevertheless, we have reinforced our outreach efforts in light of the recent Supreme Court decision. The Consulate General will continue to provide appropriate information to our community regarding SB 1070 as well as on the forthcoming effects and implementation of the Supreme Court ruling."
The consulate is holding a community forum to answer questions about the law at 6 tonight at the St. Matthew's Catholic Church, 320 N. 20th Dr.
State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, one of the main sponsors of SB 1070, said one of the goals of the law was to spur illegal immigrants to leave the state on their own out of fear they could be questioned by the police and deported following even routine traffic stops.
"Unfortunately," Kavanagh said, he doesn't think that will happen now.
"Had the Obama administration continued enforcement of immigration laws, then I think you would have seen a major exodus of illegals who were here out of the state and far fewer would come to Arizona," he said.
Instead, Kavanagh said, President Barack Obama has sent "a clear message that, for the time being, anyway, Arizona is a safe place to be."
Beginning of the exodus
In the weeks after Brewer signed SB 1070 on April 23, 2010, immigrant neighborhoods were flooded with yard sales as immigrants sold belongings to lighten their loads for the return trip to Mexico or to raise money to start over again in other states.
A March report by the Department of Homeland Security estimated that the state's undocumented population, which is mostly concentrated in the Phoenix area, may have shrunk by as much as 200,000 from the peak in 2008 to January 2011.
The exodus further dented the economy during the height of the state's housing crisis and turned thriving immigrant neighborhoods into areas filled with vacant houses, apartments and storefronts.
Senate Bill 1070 was the broadest and toughest of a string of laws passed by voters and lawmakers in recent years aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of the state through a strategy known as attrition through enforcement.
The collapse of the state's construction industry, and the implementation of mandatory electronic employee-verification checks under the state's employer-sanctions law in 2008 had driven large numbers of illegal immigrants out because they no longer could get jobs.
But the exodus accelerated after Brewer signed SB 1070, as fear spread that the chances of being deported would rise as police began questioning people about their immigration status as a matter of course.
In July 2010, however, a federal judge put most of the law on hold, including the most-feared "papers, please" portion that required police to check the status of people they suspected of being in the country illegally.
On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional parts of the law that would have made it a state misdemeanor crime for illegal immigrants to work in Arizona or fail to carry federally-issued immigration papers, and would have allowed police to arrest immigrants without warrants if they suspected they had committed a crime that rendered them deportable from the United States.
But the court upheld the "papers, please" provision. It is unclear when a lower court will lift an injunction, allowing it to be enforced.
Immigrants dealing with aftermath
Inside an office building on Seventh Street in Phoenix on Tuesday, volunteers began taking calls on a hotline set up to answer questions about the Supreme Court's ruling.
"I don't see a lot of calls from people saying, 'We are thinking of getting up and going,' " said Lydia Guzman, an immigrant advocate who oversees the hotline. "I am not seeing that now, but who knows."
Volunteers staffing the phones said the majority of calls were from undocumented immigrants seeking information about giving power of attorney to family members or friends to care for their children in case they are deported, indicating they are planning to stay.
"To me, that is a sign that people want to live here in the situation we are in," said Doris Marie Provine, an Arizona State University justice-studies professor who spent the afternoon as a volunteer answering calls to the hotline at an office building in Phoenix.
"I haven't had anybody (call and) say, 'We need to leave because of SB 1070' or 'I've gotten more scared because of SB 1070,' " Provine said.