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Tough Arizona immigration law rattles state's Latinos (+video)

The Arizona immigration law has led some illegal immigrants to move elsewhere. But those who remain, as well as law-abiding Latinos, are worried about discrimination and even indiscriminate immigration sweeps.

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / April 24, 2012

Before SB 1070, day laborers for hire in Chandler, Ariz., like these men, were more plentiful than they are now.

Matt York/AP/File

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Chandler, Ariz.

It's late morning in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, and the Rev. José González sits behind his church with a handful of day laborers eager for any job offers.

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Monitor staff writer Sara Miller Llana and staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman talk with a group of Mexican farmers about why they've decided to stay home.

Before Arizona adopted its tough immigration law in April 2010, the day labor center attracted a lot more workers, the pastor says. Fewer come now, and although he says lack of work is a factor, he cites as a major reason the chilling effect the law has had on many local Latinos.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty in the community," says Mr. González.

As the US Supreme Court prepares to hear the merits and demerits of Arizona's fiery immigration law, some say the very existence of the legislation – even if not fully implemented – has left an indelible mark on the Grand Canyon State.

Although it's hard to quantify the law's effect, anecdotal evidence suggests Senate Bill 1070, as it is known, caused some to depart for other states and Mexico, home to most of Arizona's estimated 360,000 illegal immigrants. Some say crime is down as a result; others say worry about racial discrimination permeates anew Latino communities. SB 1070 also cost businesses millions because of national boycotts, at least initially, as people elsewhere tagged Arizona as an immigration enforcement zealot.

Stephen Montoya, a civil rights lawyer in Phoenix, is one who says the law has bruised the state and divided the populace.

"SB 1070 did drive a stake in between the people of Arizona – those who were for it, and those who were against it," he says.

But former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the law's architect, lauds SB 1070, saying it accomplished its purpose: driving out illegal immigrants. "Just the threat of SB 1070 has made a difference in Arizona," he says.

Mr. Pearce, who has long attributed a rise in crime to illegal immigrants, says SB 1070 is a big reason rates are down for homicide and other violent crimes. (FBI statistics show the downward crime trend began years before the law passed.) He also says the departure of illegal immigrants will free up jobs for Americans.

Pearce, whose championing of SB 1070 contributed to his losing his seat in a recall election in November, says concerns that the law will lead to racial discrimination are unfounded. He says states have an inherent authority to enforce immigration law; he is confident the Supreme Court will agree.

"All we're doing is removing illegal sanctuary policies, taking the handcuffs off law enforcement, allowing them to do their job," says Pearce, who plans to be at the Supreme Court April 25.

Several of Arizona's top law enforcement officials oppose the law, but Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever is a proponent. He says a high court nod to SB 1070 would send a strong message.

"Arizona will be a less likely place for people to enter across our border," he says. "It already has created something of a snowball effect in other states that have enacted similar laws."

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