Published: April 25, 2010.New York Times
MESA, Ariz. — They stood a few miles from each other, but as far apart as heat and cold.
Clutching a copy of a Spanish-language article on the tough new law making it a state crime for illegal immigrants to be in Arizona and requiring those suspected of being violators to show proof of legal status, Eric Ramirez, 29, still waited on a corner for work. He nervously kept watch for the police and wondered what his future held.
“We were already afraid, and I was thinking of leaving for California,” Mr. Ramirez said as he waited on the corner in a heavily Latino enclave already drained of people by the recession and the fear of police harassment. “We shop in their stores, we clean their yards, but they want us out and the police will be on us.”
In a nearby neighborhood, Ron White, 52, said he felt a sense of relief that something was finally being done about “the illegals” — whom he blames for ills like congregating on the streets, breaking into homes in his neighborhood, draining tax dollars and taking jobs from Americans.
“I sure hope it does have an effect,” Mr. White said of the new law as he packed his car with groceries. “I wouldn’t want to show proof of citizenship, but I also don’t feel it is racial profiling. You are going to look different if you are an alien, and cops know.”
Immigration has always polarized residents of Arizona, a major gateway for illegal immigrants. But the new law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday has widened the chasm in a way few here can remember.
The law — barring expected legal challenges before it takes effect this summer — also gives the local police broad powers to check documentation “when practicable” of anyone they reasonably suspect is an illegal immigrant.
It has already shaken up politics in the state, and it sets the stage for a rematch on a national debate between the punitive and the practical solutions to the nation’s illegal immigration issue.
But the arguments are less abstract in Arizona, home to an estimated 450,000 illegal immigrants and to the busiest stretch of illegal crossings along the Mexican border.
While demonstrators massed at the Capitol, including a few thousand Sunday afternoon denouncing the law as unconstitutional and an open invitation for racial profiling, the undercurrents that gave rise to the bill pushed as strong as ever.
The sponsor of the bill, a state senator and retired sheriff’s deputy whose passion is to drive out the state’s illegal immigrants and deter more from coming, lives here in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb that is the state’s third-largest city.
It has landed in the cauldron of debate, with a former police chief publicly warring with the county sheriff over the merits of his “crime suppression” sweeps a couple of years ago that focused on illegal immigrants.
Mesa has grown blisteringly fast in the last few decades, to about 450,000 residents from 63,000 in 1970, with Southern California-style walled subdivisions and gated communities blanketing former farmland.
The economy soared until recently, but the blitz of development proved unsettling to some.
Illegal immigrants flowed in, too, to tend the yards, fix the roofs and commit their share of crimes, though police officials have said at no greater rate than the rest of the population.
About a fifth of the residents are Hispanic. But they live mainly in enclaves like Reed Park, a stretch of boxy apartment buildings dotted with “for rent” signs, bodegas blaring Mexican music and older homes.
This is Rosalia Miñon’s Mesa, and she fears it. Even before the new law, she and her fellow illegal immigrant neighbors did not venture out often for fear of being stopped by the police or immigration agents.
Ms. Miñon is struggling to make ends meet, because more employers than ever are asking for Social Security cards and checking their validity under a heretofore rarely enforced 2007 state law that provides penalties for employers who do not check. She prays every morning as she steps out the door, “because we go out and we do not know if we are coming back.”
Alfredo Hernández-García, 22, who is not a legal resident but is married to a woman who is, already lies low, fearing he will be deported and separated from his wife, who will soon give birth.
“This is going to tear apart families, and what good does that do?” he said, relaxing at an apartment building near a park he rarely ventures into. “What is the government here going to do if we all go and it affects the economy?”
Like others, Mr. Hernández-García said the wait for legal authorization to immigrate from Mexico runs several years, sometimes even a decade or more.
“And all the jobs are here,” he said. “There is nothing in Mexico, and now it is so violent. Who wants to go back?”
The businesses catering to Latinos are suffering. At Mi Amigos, a bodega, the manager, Rigoberto Magaña, glanced at the emptiness of the store at midday and said it was typical.
“Our business is way, way down, and so is everybody else’s here,” Mr. Magaña said. “Nobody comes out.”
Just a short drive away, a subdivision encircles a golf course.
This is Kent Lowis’s Mesa, and he fears for it.
“This law might kick some of these immigrants out,” said Mr. Lowis, 76, a retiree who has lived here for more than 30 years and does not like all the change. “They vandalize the golf course, throwing flags in the ponds. Burglaries. There are too many immigrants. I get tired of seeing all these people standing on the corner.”
Such sentiments propelled the bill through the Republican-controlled Legislature, with supporters listing well-publicized cases in which illegal immigrants committed rapes and shot and killed police officers.
The sponsor, State Senator Russell K. Pearce, a Republican, said it would give the police a tool to weed out criminals before they act and help foster a climate of toughness that would discourage more immigrants from coming.
Governor Brewer, a Republican, said as she signed the bill into law on Friday that she believed that a majority of Arizonans supported it, though there is no independent assessment of the assertion. A poll released two days before said that a majority of likely voters in Arizona supported the bill, but it used an automated telephone query that some pollsters find questionable and it was conducted before the heavy onslaught of news media coverage.
No Democrats in the Legislature supported the bill, and only one Republican voted against it.
While those opposed to the law are making the most noise, the quiet support can be found here, though some people are uneasy about being cast as anti-Hispanic and several people interviewed declined to be named out of concern they would be thought of as prejudiced.
“I don’t want people to be afraid to come,” said Pam Sutherland, who is a window manufacturer and a fan of the crime sweeps but is also concerned about the state’s image. “I just want them to do it legally.”
For many, though, support for the law comes down to a way to vent frustration that, in their view, the federal government has not done enough to control immigration — particularly in a state on the border where reports of drug busts, houses overcrowded with illegal immigrants and people dying in the desert trying to get here fill the airwaves.
“We can see Washington isn’t going to do anything,” Mr. White said. “So why not Arizona? I think Arizona is the one state with the bigger problem with it.”
An additional point. I frequently have debates with Right Wingers on immigration. They argue that they would not oppose immigration - if they person would just come legally. As in the above quote. This is a central issue to them- or at least they claim it is. However, if you read this article you will note that for many, to apply for immigration would take 10 -12 years. If your family is hungry in Mexico, in part due to NAFTA, you can't wait 10 years.