When the Great Recession crumpled the economy of Arizona, the erratic state legislature helped make the recession’s effect worse. The conservatives pushed bills such as the controversial immigrant policing SB 1070 and measures that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. As the madcap legislation rolled along, the state’s image changed for the worse. Arizona developed a reputation as a place that was sliding backward socially, unwelcoming to immigrants and stridently anti-gay.
As a result, Arizona’s tourism and convention business took an extra hard beating. Bookings at the Phoenix Center dropped 30% between 2009 when SB 1070 passed and 2012. The financial loss to the state caused by the legislative missteps are estimated to be over $375 million. It chilled business development because the antagonistic atmosphere created doubt about Arizona as a location for business expansion. After the passage of SB 1070, the state’s relationship with Sonora, Mexico turned frosty as Mexican officials declined to participate in meetings.
The misbegotten legislative thrusts of the recent past continue to cast a pall. The new governor has found that his early business promotion efforts have met with a degree of skepticism. Governor Ducey is trying to convince people that Arizona has changed, that it is finished with controversy. The governor says he wants to reach out to Sonora because of the economic possibilities offered by closer cooperation. He wants to use Arizona’s location to advantage. To maximize the opportunities offered by the inland port of entry at Nogales and the trade corridor running through Arizona from Mexico to Canada.
Governor Ducey seems to understand that the self-inflicted political damage made the recession more difficult for the state. The governor thinks the issues of immigration enforcement and reform are mostly matters for Washington. As such, they should not be allowed to get in the way of the opportunities offered by Arizona’s border location. It has been hinted that he doesn’t want to see anything resembling SB 1070 introduced in the legislature. It is a welcome change in focus because Arizona’s unemployment rate stands at 6.7%.
Arizona is considered to be one of the states that makes life hard for immigrants, illegal or otherwise. The police, often unfairly, are criticized for wanting to check the papers of everyone looking slightly Hispanic. There are approximately 12 million people living in the U.S. illegally. The much debated attempt at immigration reform remains stuck in a gridlocked Congress. The bill passed by the Senate in 2013 sits idle in the House of Representatives. The House would rather tinker with ways to offset President Obama’s immigration executive actions, the ones that have temporarily spared approximately five million people from the threat of deportation.
As Congress continues to dither, some local jurisdictions are implementing pro-immigration policies. The mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, a place that has been losing population for 60 years, wants to make it the most immigrant friendly city in the world. City police will no longer routinely check immigration status, local enforcement of federal immigration law will be undertaken only in required cases. The state of Maryland will issue driver licenses to immigrants. Baltimore’s immigration stance is designed to be a weapon in the city’s ongoing struggle with urban decay.
To break the downward spiral of depopulated neighborhoods, decaying housing and rising crime, a city has to attract new residents. In Baltimore, immigrants appear to be willing to move into blighted neighborhoods and fix them up. The number of immigrants moving to Baltimore increased by 50% during 2000-13, helping the city record its first growth in population in years. Immigrants have been found to bring a willingness to work and a knack for acquiring new skills. Over time, immigrants help create jobs because they are more likely than the native-born to start a business.
Other cities such as Cleveland, Dayton and Philadelphia are also courting immigrants. The Republican governor of Michigan would like to have 50,000 visas made available for people willing to move to Detroit. As Governor Ducey attempts to stimulate Arizona’s economy, he may find that one of the biggest hindrances is the concern raised by the actions of Arizona’s legislature. Its bizarre past legislative forays have already made his job a lot harder.