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Friday, July 23, 2010

Immigration Cause & Effect May be Rearing its Head

by Chuck McGlawn
From Phoenix comes, “Go away”, say the proponents of SB 1070 they argue that the exodus of illegal immigrants can only help Arizona's economy. Najmuddin Katchi sees it differently. The shopping center that holds his small shop is almost empty. The Food City supermarket closed this spring, then the furniture shop, then the pizzeria. The giant apartment complex across the street, once brimming with tenants, is two-thirds vacant. Katchi is behind on his store rent, lamenting that, after the 29th of July, “Maybe I have to close the store." His customers, mostly Latino immigrants, are packing to leave the state before the nation's toughest law against illegal immigrants takes effect July 29.

It's hard to determine how much of the neighborhood's woes stem from Arizona's immigration laws and how much from the state's economy, battered by a once red-hot housing marked that cooled. Katchi's says, “Revenue was already sagging before April 23”, but since SB 1070 was signed into law, sales have plummeted.

Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, in Washington, which argues for stricter immigration standards and estimates that illegal immigrants cost Arizona taxpayers $2.5 billion annually. But, it's hard to get solid data on illegal immigrants and the economy. A 2007 report from the Congressional Budget Office that reviewed 29 studies labeled as "modest" the burden on state budgets.

Judith Gans of the University of Arizona's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, say “even people whose families use more government services than they pay in taxes still help the economy. In a 2008 study, she found that Arizona immigrants contributed $29 billion annually to the state economy, representing about 8% of its activity. When immigrants leave, Gans said, "stores experience dramatic drops in sales. Apartment owners who rent to immigrants have high vacancy rates and risk losing their buildings. Legal workers or renters or consumers don't generally step in quickly enough to prevent these businesses from experiencing real additional hardship."No one has measured the effect of SB 1070 on businesses, or the number of immigrants it has prompted to leave Arizona. But merchants say the repercussions are clear — not just in how it's prompted many families to leave the state, but scared others enough to curtail their regular activities. "The economy's already bad, but SB 1070 is like a bullet in the head to us," said Osameh Odeh, 35, whose Eden Wear clothing store was empty. I have laid off workers and don't pay his utility bills until the day they come due. Additionally, Odeh is a resident of the middle-class suburb of Gilbert and has cut back his purchases at home. Edgar Vela lives in another comfortable suburb, but his ability to spend money at home hinges on the success of his Salvadoran restaurant at 43rd and Thomas, La Pupusa Loca. He just closed his neighboring bakery last week and has laid off six employees. His daughters, both doctors, now come in on weekends to work the floor.The impact spreads, Vela was told that the breadwinner renters in Vela’s rental property had been arrested by Arpaio's deputies, and they could no longer pay the rent. The bank foreclosed on Vela’s rental house.

Faviola Davenport, 42, owns 3Girlz Retail across the street from Vela's restaurant. Davenport, who emigrated legally from Mexico 23 years ago, expects she will close the shop next month. Davenport said that if the law takes effect she will probably abandon Arizona as well. SB 1070's supporters say legal residents like Davenport have nothing to fear from the law, which bans racial profiling. But earlier this year, Davenport said, she was stopped by a police officer on her way to work. She said the officer did not believe she was in the country legally and warned that he could refer her to immigration authorities for deportation.THE CAUSE Davenport said "They don't want Mexicans," THE EFFECT "So we'll leave."

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