Illegal immigrants are leaving Arizona
Law targeting employers dries up job prospects
PHOENIX - Parents are pulling students out of school. Construction workers are abandoning their jobs. Families are hastily moving out of apartments.
Two months after Arizona enacted a law punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants, the law is already achieving one of its goals: Scores of immigrants are fleeing to other states or back to their Latin American homelands.
Gaby Espinoza, who has been unemployed since November, is among those affected. She gave up looking for a job because of the law and might return to Mexico.
Espinoza's husband works here legally, but the law means that employers must ask her for papers.
"There's no work over there in Mexico," said Espinoza, who has three US-born children. "Here, my kids have health insurance and Medicare. Over there, there's nothing."
Jose Perez Leon, a laborer in Phoenix who wants to return to Mexico City, said jobs were plentiful when he came to Arizona 18 months ago but began to dry up in the past three months.
"I don't like it here anymore because of everything that's happening," he said. "There's no work."
The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano approved the law out of frustration with federal efforts to curb illegal immigration. It took effect Jan. 1.
The law suspends or revokes the business licenses of violators and was intended to reduce the economic incentive for immigrants to sneak across the border. Illegal immigrants account for an estimated one in 10 workers in Arizona, which is the nation's busiest gateway for illegal immigration.
Business groups have challenged the law. While awaiting a ruling, prosecutors agreed to hold off bringing cases to court until yesterday.
Republican state Representative Russell Pearce designed the law to reduce spending on educating and providing healthcare for illegal immigrants and their families, and to encourage them to leave Arizona.
"Why in the world do [illegal immigrants] think they have a right to break the law? And we are the bad guys for insisting that the law be enforced? The public doesn't agree with that," Pearce said.
Many school officials said they believe the law has played a role in declining enrollment. The state's struggling economy and slumping housing market are other factors. Several districts reported losing more than 100 students at least in part because of the law.
The Isaac School District in central Phoenix, with a student body that is 96 percent Hispanic, lost 500 students, said Abedon Fimbres, a district spokesman.
The departure of so many students upsets people like Jackie Doerr, who is principal at Andalucia Primary School, which is in a separate district in west Phoenix. She said teachers had made progress teaching English to many of the children. "They have to leave and start all over again. It's just so frustrating when you see how far they have come," she said. The construction industry says some of its workers are leaving for California, Colorado, or Texas.
Veronica Avalos, an illegal immigrant who has lived in Arizona for 13 years, has been caring for her three children alone since January. Her husband's Arizona employer closed its doors. He now works in San Antonio.
Avalos and her children plan to join him soon, but she worries how the move will affect her son, 11, who is partially blind and has mild mental disabilities.
"We need to look for a school, services, and programs for him. He has all those things right now," she said. "But I don't know what will happen in Texas."