Will Arizona's New Law Push Illegal Immigrants to Other States?

The Arizona Republic says that illegal immigrants are leaving Arizona after the state's crackdown. People said the same thing about Georgia when it passed a tough immigration law in 2006. But, it didn't end up happening.
by | June 30, 2010

The Arizona Republic says that illegal immigrants are leaving Arizona and heading for other states because of the state's tough new immigration law. I'd be very cautious of this sort of report. I know because I once wrote something similar.

Here's what the Arizona Republic story says:

Arizona's tough new immigration law is driving undocumented families out. A few of the immigrants are returning to Mexico, but many simply are pulling up stakes and relocating to other parts of the United States.

Here's what I wrote in 2007 about Colorado and Georgia, two states that passed their own tough immigration laws:

The public perception, however, is that the legislation has changed the immigration climate in Colorado. Word circulated through Spanish-language radio that Colorado wasn't the place for migrant workers to locate. With 49 states to choose from, why would an immigrant without proper papers want to come to the place with what sponsors were calling "the toughest piece of legislation in the country"? That sense was reinforced by a federal immigration raid of a Swift & Co. meat-packing plant in Greeley, Colorado, last December, in which more than 250 workers were arrested. The consensus among those who follow the subject is that there are fewer illegal immigrants coming to Colorado now than before the law was enacted.

There are signs that SB 529 has created a similar perception in Georgia, even though it is just going into effect. Gonzalez, of the Association of Latino Elected Officials, says that home and car sales to Hispanics have declined precipitously in Georgia in recent months, and the reason is that undocumented workers are afraid they may have to leave the state. "Immigrants are making sure that they are able to move at a moment's notice," he says. "The market has completely collapsed." The Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also cites real estate as its hardest-hit economic sector.

The Georgia legislature approved its law in 2006. Its key provisions went into effect in 2007. So, we've had plenty of time to test whether illegal immigrants were driven out of the state.

In January 2006, Georgia was home to 490,000 undocumented immigrants according to the federal Department of Homeland Security. By January 2009, that number had dropped slightly to 480,000. (Hat tip: Politifact).

However, over those same three years, the number of illegal immigrants nationally dropped by 800,000. Other states, such as California and Florida, experienced much larger decreases without any equivalent laws on the books. Arizona's undocumented immigrant population dropped by 40,000.

Maybe, the dynamics in Arizona will be different either because the new law is perceived to be even tougher than Georgia's or because it will be enforced more aggressively than Georgia's. But, at the time, everyone thought Georgia had passed quite a tough law.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer