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Lisa Urias’ Op-ed in the Phoenix Business Journal

July 12, 2010
My view: Immigration law tearing at Arizona’s cultural fabricPhoenix Business Journal- July 9, 2010

By: Lisa Urias

1137731-0-0-1As a fourth-generation Arizonan and a small-business owner, I believe in having secure borders. I also believe most Arizonans, including most Hispanics, understand that our nation must curb illegal immigration and stop drug trafficking, and that Congress must implement national immigration reform.

I also believe Senate Bill 1070 will not help us achieve those vital goals. Instead, the law is tearing at the social, political and cultural fabric of our state and crippling us economically.

I’d recommend that those interested in what’s in store for Arizona in the wake of SB 1070 watch the documentary “9500 Liberty.” It’s about the decision in 2007 by local officials in Prince William County, Va., to pass a law virtually identical to SB 1070. What ensues is a spellbinding account of their story, which portends our own.

As in Arizona, the tale in Prince William begins with an outside group (FAIR) convincing a public official to craft a local version of SB 1070, while inciting a cynical and ill-informed political campaign based on “fighting illegal immigration.”

There is a scene in “9500 Liberty” that frames the entire national immigration debate. During a public forum, a supporter of the law asks county officials not to forget “Who was responsible for 9/11: illegals!” By contrast, another man responds, “Don’t confuse 9/11 with 7-Eleven … the guys at 7-Eleven just want to work.”

The question I have for Arizonans is: Are we going to label immigrant laborers as dangerous criminals, or accurately value them as the overwhelmingly decent people who throughout history have helped build the Arizona economy? Immigrant workers have been part of the economic and social fabric of our nation since its inception. As one immigrant points out tearfully in the documentary: “I have lived here for 11 years with my family. I clean the sewer pipes. … No one wants to do this job.”In Arizona, the 9/11 side of the debate is all we hear. The most vocal proponents of SB 1070 often talk about immigrants as if they’re all hardened criminals. Arizona Sen. Russell Pierce wants to deny U.S. citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born here. Barry Wong, a candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission, recently suggested utility companies should cut off power to anyone who cannot prove they’re U.S. citizens. These stories end up in the national press. What’s next? Will we deny illegal immigrants clean drinking water?

In “9500 Liberty,” immigrants were run out of town. As the flow of money in the community slowed, business owners, mostly Anglos, were forced to close and abandon restaurants, shops and rental properties. In the end, the community was left divided and financially crippled. Only then was the law rescinded. While Arizona is economically more complex than Prince William County, we may face many of the same results. Our recovery has been painfully slow. Tax revenue is down. Competition for attracting investment, new businesses and conventions gets harder every day, as our political leaders perpetuate the erroneous image that Arizona is crime-ridden, intolerant and unwelcoming. Simply put, that isn’t good for business. In short, all of the hard work done in recent years to brand our community as a sophisticated, emerging “world class” city is being undone. The 7-Eleven side of the argument needs a voice. We in the business community need to talk publicly about how Arizona is going in the wrong direction.

It’s time for us to redefine the public debate and focus on what matters most: economic development, job creation, improving education and innovative efforts to hone our competitive edge.In these tough economic times, there is no time to waste attacking immigrants when we should be engaged in a full attack on the real economic and social ills that are keeping us from fulfilling our true destiny as an “opportunity oasis” for anyone with a creative and entrepreneurial spirit. We have little time to waste and a very narrow margin of error.

Lisa Urias is president of Urias Communications and vice chair of the Arizona Latino Research Enterprise. She can be reached at lisa@uriascommunications.com or 480-751-5569.

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