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What's at stake for California in today's arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Arizona's SB 1070? That all depends on who you ask.

April 25, 2012 1:05 p.m.


Alisa Joyce Barba, Senior Editor, NPR Fronteras, Changing America Desk

Adrian Florido, Reporter KPBS Fronteras, Changing America Desk

Related Story: Controversial Arizona Law Reaches Supreme Court


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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KHOKHA: The show us your papers law, and basically it requires police officers if they stop somebody or somebody has been arrested, is under some kind of reasonable suspicion, that they have to produce documents that show they are a legal resident of Arizona.

CAVANAUGH: And so that is --

JOYCE-BARBER: That's number 1. The second one allows officers to make an arrest without a warrant, if there's a reasonable suspicion that somebody is in the country illegally.

CAVANAUGH: What parts of SB1070 are already in effect? There's some parts of the law that have gone into effect, right?

JOYCE-BARBER: Correct. One part of the law that's in effect basically outlaws any municipality over city to implement any kind of sanctuary law, in other words to say in Arizona, you're safe here.

CAVANAUGH: And I'm surprised that that part of the law isn't controversial as well.

>> Me too.

CAVANAUGH: We don't have anything like that here in California. It's usually been the case, Alisa, that the federal government is the only entity that can make and enforce immigration law. Why does Arizona argue that it has to get involved in this in the part first?

JOYCE-BARBER: Well, it's not just Arizona. This is a long, longstanding debate. In California, many state vs argued for 10-15 years that the federal government has not been adequately enforcing its own immigration law, there's been a flood of illegal immigrants across the border. And power or five years ago at the peak of the construction boom, we did have 11 million estimated illegal immigrants in this country, mainly coming in because of the jobs magnet. And there was a lot of concern in California of course, we put up a huge fence in California and shifted a lot of that illegal immigrant flow to the east, to Arizona. So now Arizona is stepping up and saying it's too expensive, there's high crime rates. The federal government is not enforcing its own immigration laws so much that's essentially the argument they're making.

CAVANAUGH: Before I go to Adrian, and the new information we have now on the rate, the dropping rate of illegal immigration into the United States , what has been the reaction from Arizona's Latino population to 1070, the concept of it?

JOYCE-BARBER: There's certainly people, Latinos in Arizona who are in support of the law. Tens of thousands of people who are in this country legally, and who do not like the fact that there are so many people here illegally. But the vast majority I believe of the Latino population in Arizona has seen this as basically an excuse for racial profiling. They see it as a way for the law enforcement entities in Arizona to be looking at them, to be coming after them. So there's been a lot of protests, a lot of opposition, and a lot of people who have said they'd rather not live in Arizona under these circumstances.

CAVANAUGH: Adrian, today's U.S. Supreme Court argument over this anti-illegal immigration law comes at an ironic time, really. A new study by pew Hispanic center finds illegal immigration is way down.

FLORIDO: There was a study that the center published on Monday which found that for the first time in decades, the net migration from Mexico to the United States has essentially reached zero. In other words, as many Mexicans who were living in the United States went back to Mexico as came here. And there's a significant decline in the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. at the peak in 27, there were some seven million unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. and if between 2005 and 2010, that number drops to something like 6.1†million.

CAVANAUGH: Do we know why?

FLORIDO: It's hard to peg it on any kind of one particular reason. There are a lot of factor this is come into play here. The studies cited things like the weakened U.S. job and construction market. Heightened border enforcement. A rise in deportations under the Obama administration. The growing dangers associated with illegal border crossing, and changes also in Mexico, demographically, and economically there. An increase in the number of opportunities for Mexicans living in Mexico. And in recent year, a decline in the fertility rate in Mexico.

CAVANAUGH: Right. A number of different factors. I think a lot of demographers were most surprised about the number of Mexican nationals living in the United States who are actually returning to Mexico. There were more than 1 million of those people, and a lot of families going back to Mexico as well.

FLORIDO: That was one of the interesting findings. It's not only sort of individual Mexican nationals returning, undocumented immigrants or whatever. In fact, entire families are returning, many with U.S.-born children speaking to the pull or push from the United States because of all the economic factors, and potentially, the anti-immigrant sentiment.

CAVANAUGH: Alisa, it seems like both sides of the immigration debate could make arguments taking credit for declining
immigration numbers. There were a lot of dire predictions about Arizona's economy, how it would suffer because of boycotts over SB1070. But recently the Arizona governor pointed to SB1070 for helping Arizona's economic turnaround.

>> I'm not sure who her argument would be about how it's helped the turnaround, but I think what she's saying is it hasn't hurt us as predicted. There was dire predictions two years ago that vast boycotts and businesses would suffer because of a lack of tourism, people wouldn't come to Arizona, it was portrayed as an unfriendly state. But the figures show that the economy is slowly on the rebound, that they've added some 42,000 new nonfarm jobs in the last year or so. But here's the thing about this whole migration and immigration debate. There are some studies out there that show that Arizona, like Southern California, the economy there is very much based on the construction industry, and a booming construction economy. That's going to come back. Most predictions say that's going to come back. It may not come back at the rate it was before, but I edited a story earlier this week that talked about the need for some 40,000 new construction workers in Phoenix or in Arizona within the next five years. Once that happened, where are those workers going to come from? And that's the point at where these immigration laws are going to run smack into the economic realities that Arizona is going to have to deal with.

CAVANAUGH: Adrian, a lot of people pointing to the immigration numbers in this study have noted there's a certain amount of attrition, if people finding it just too difficult to come across the border and live in the United States now because of laws involving illegal immigration, and therefore just not making the effort to do so.

FLORIDO: That's one of the things that the study's authors cited as potentially contributing to this decline. If you look at Alabama and Georgia, which have implemented similar laws, which are much more agriculturally based, there been reports of farmers there saying they're actually losing money, their crops are going untended to, and the anti-immigrant laws there are resulting in a tremendous economic hit to the state. I don't remember which of the states it was, but one of them, I believe, one of the legislators who was responsible for sponsoring the law ended up coming out and regretting that he had done so.

CAVANAUGH: So this entire confluence of events, a decrease in immigration, and an increase in antiil legal immigration laws could spark governments to actually make some migrant temporary worker laws to allow people to come in and do the jobs they're already doing.


JOYCE-BARBER: Well, that is really at the crux of the matter. And the question is, is the federal government going to be the one that goes ahead and does it, or is it going to be state governments? And if the state comes down on the side of Arizona, which is to say you can make your own laws to help us enforce this, you're going to see more and more states coming up with not just harsh anti-immigrant laws, but also guest worker laws. Utah passed one on hold right now waiting for this decision.

CAVANAUGH: We haven't talked about the political ramifications of this for this presidential season, Alisa. Am how much has the debate over illegal immigration actually impacted this presidential race so far?

JOYCE-BARBER: That's the most fascinating part of this whole thing. The backstory is that Mitt Romney as he was running in the primaries for the Republican nomination has taken a very strong anti-immigrant stance. He needs to get the far right on his side, so he's basically said that he supports the Arizona law, though there's some quibbles there. And he supports so-called self-deportation which is what the Arizona law is all about. One of his strong advisors was Chris Kovak, the guy who wrote the law out of Kansas. Now of course he's looking at a general election, and he needs Latino voters. So he's bringing Republican governor from Florida, Marco Rubio onto his team, who is a Hispanic, is a Republican, but supports some provisions of the dream act. Bottom line, is Mitt Romney is hurting very badly with the Latino voter, some 67% in the latest poll do not support him. He's going to need to get them on his side if he's going to win, and he's going to have to soften his immigration stance to do that.

CAVANAUGH: The Supreme Court is set to come out with a decision on this case in June. How do you see this playing out politically according to which way the Court decides?

JOYCE-BARBER: I frankly can't see how a Supreme Court decision is going to impact -- if they come down in support of Arizona, it will hurt Obama somewhat because he has gone out opposing it. But he basically still runs pretty strong with the Hispanic voter because of his longheld support of those issues

FLORIDO: And it may also give the democratic opponents to these laws a reason to galvanize Latino voters and create even more anti-Republican sentiment, which could end up benefiting Democrats in the longer election term.

CAVANAUGH: And my last question to you Alisa, how do you see is it specifically impacting California at all?

JOYCE-BARBER: I think that if the law is upheld in Arizona, it would not be unheard of for us to see more migration into Southern California.

CAVANAUGH: I see. I have to thank my guests, thank you both very much.

FLORIDO: Thanks Maureen.