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4:00 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

After SB 1070, Some Migrants In Arizona Self-Deport

 A federal judge stopped the most controversial parts of Arizona's 2010 immigration law from going into effect. But supporters say that hasn't prevented the law from achieving one of its stated goals: Thousands of people who were living in Arizona illegally have left.

Jossie is one of them.

"A lot of time when the police was driving behind me, start shaking my body, stop breathing," says the mother of two teenagers, who now lives in Albuquerque, N.M.

Jossie is still afraid of getting deported, so we agreed not to use her last name.

Jossie and her family lived in the Phoenix area in 2010, the year Arizona's legislature passed the bill. A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of SB 1070, including a provision that would require police to check the immigration status of those they believe are in the country illegally.

But that injunction didn't matter for Jossie. She was so nervous driving to work as a housekeeper that she once hyperventilated and lost consciousness on the road, she said.

"New Mexico offer me opportunities," Jossie said. "I am going to do something for New Mexico. I am going to tell my kids to do something good for New Mexico."

Jossie's husband was able to rekindle his catering business. She has a drivers' license, a document that's still available for undocumented immigrants in New Mexico.

The difference between Arizona and her new home state?

"Big difference," Jossie says.

Recent data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) show Arizona’s illegal immigrant population has fallen by roughly 100,000 since 2009. For statistical reasons, the agency warns against making year-by-year comparisons.

But this is just one indication the population of people living in Arizona illegally dropped, according to Pew Hispanic Center Demographer Jeff Passel.

"But it’s very difficult to say how much it’s decreased and why it’s dropped," Passel said.

That’s because in the midst of Arizona's immigration debate, the state’s economy was in a tailspin. Jobs vaporized in Arizona’s massive construction industry where immigrants tend to work. So it's hard to know exactly what caused those workers to leave.

Now there's reason to believe the state will need people to step in. The research firm IHS Global Insight predicts Arizona will need 41,000 new construction workers by 2015 to keep up with projected demand.

Where will the labor force come from?

"We’re going to have to reward people who engage in hard labor. If we do that with a domestic labor force, it’s going to cost more," says Arizona State University's Dennis Hoffman, a professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business.

That would be just fine, according to SB 1070 supporters, who say thinning Arizona's illegal workforce was one of the law's intentions.

Mike Widmaier had been in the construction business for decades. When the recession hit, he closed his small contracting firm. He says he couldn’t land jobs when other employers still paid workers under the table.

"When they’re beating you by 25 to 30 percent, you just can’t compete," Widmaier explained. "If wages get up, hopefully the younger generations, we can start to draw them back into construction."

And there is some evidence the atmosphere created by the state’s immigration crackdown has impacted the local population - people who live here legally.

Take Alison Gamez, for example. She's a licensed professional counselor who is married to a man from Mexico.

"Things have gotten really scary, and we want to move out of the state," Gamez said from her home in Surprise, a Phoenix suburb.

But Gamez and her husband are legally allowed to be in Arizona. Alison was born in the U.S. She married her husband in 2009. Before that, he worked illegally in the construction industry. His papers are in order now, but SB 1070 has already done it's damage, she says.

Even if the Supreme Court overturned the law, she says she'll still leave. Most of her community is already gone.

"One brother-in-law went to Canada with papers. Another brother-in-law went back to Mexico," Gamez said. "Many of our farm worker friends went to California."

Gamez has her eye on North Carolina, where she’s heard of good jobs and friendlier laws toward immigrants. If the plan works out, she and her family will be gone by 2014.