Arizona Law: Socially Toxic and Economically Self-Defeating

Supreme CourtTomorrow the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, S.B. 1070, in the case Arizona v. United States.  As the Court considers aspects of the law’s legality, it is also important to consider its functionality. Ever since this extreme law passed in 2010, its stated purpose of “enforcement through attrition” has led to results that can only be described as economically self-defeating and socially toxic.

Even though Arizona’s law has not been fully implemented due to ongoing litigation, it has had a damaging effect on many facets of the state’s economy by:

  • Creating substantial costs in defending and enforcing the law. Arizona has had to pay nearly $2 million to defend this law and will surely spend more as other related lawsuits move through the courts.  Furthermore, although Arizona did not conduct an analysis of the cost of implementation, a sheriff from Yuma County, Arizona, produced a fact sheet in response to a similar bill introduced in 2006.  It provided data demonstrating that such a law would cost the county millions of dollars in construction of additional detention facilities, processing fees, jail costs, attorney and staff fees, and related court costs.
  • Damaging the state’s economy. Severe Arizona-style laws affect all state residents regardless of immigration status by gutting the local economy. They deplete employment, shrink the state’s tax revenue base, and impair vital sectors of the economy. One study estimated that Arizona sustained $141 million in lost spending due to conference and event cancellations in the first seven months after the law passed.  Another study calculated that if Arizona’s law was fully implemented and all undocumented immigrants left the state, employment would decrease by 17.2%, 581,100 jobs would be wiped out, the state’s economy would contract by $48.8 billion, and state tax revenues would decrease by 10.1%.
  • Tarnishing the state’s reputation – with consequences for business, tourism, and academia. Arizona’s law has caused lingering economic and reputational problems. As reported by the Arizona Daily Star, “Negative publicity about Arizona has hindered the ability of the University of Arizona and some businesses to lure the best and brightest to Tucson, some officials say….The University of Arizona has heard from top professors and graduate students that they don’t want to move to Arizona because of the law.” In other states with Arizona-style laws (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina) experts estimate those states will lose tens of billions of dollars in various sectors of their economies.


Arizona-style immigration laws also undermine the social fabric of communities by:

  • Undermining public safety.  Across the board, law enforcement officials have strongly opposed laws like Arizona’s because they undermine police officers’ duty to maintain public safety and fight crime.  As noted by state and local law enforcement associations as well as numerous current and former law enforcement officials in their amicus brief to the Supreme Court, a “community policing” model in which law enforcement works together with community members has produced valuable results.  Yet, Arizona’s law “upsets that balance” when it creates an atmosphere in which any person who talks to the police also could be subject to questions regarding immigration status. As a result, these laws hamper law enforcement’s central purpose, which is to keep communities safe by preventing and solving crime.
  • Increasing the likelihood of discrimination against people just because of the way they look.  In this country we believe that we should be judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin. But Arizona’s law encourages discrimination against people just because of the way they look, even if they have been American citizens all their lives. In states where Arizona-style laws have passed, there have been numerous accounts of people who are dark-skinned, have an accent, or appear “different” who have been exposed to more scrutiny.
  • Weakening the K-12 education system and creating other extreme humanitarian outcomes. Arizona’s law and Alabama’s even more draconian version drew national and international criticism for frightening children away from schools, cutting off clean water to residents, and creating a climate of fear.  In Arizona and in other states such as Alabama, attendance noticeably dropped in K-12 classes due to parents’ fear of their children being reported while in school.


These worrisome social and economic outcomes continue to point to the fact that the real solution is not a confusing patchwork of 50 different state laws but common-sense immigration laws at the federal level that will strengthen our communities, families, and economy.

For more about how Arizona-style immigration laws are economically self-defeating and socially toxic, please read these excellent reports from the Center for American Progress and Immigration Policy Center.

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