American Dispatch: Perception is Reality With SB 1070

By FOX News Radio’s Jessica Rosenthal in Phoenix, Arizona

Hours after the Supreme Court upheld one provision of SB 1070 but threw out three others, Arizona’s Governor told a roomful of us reporters at the Capitol building that their efforts had been “unanimously vindicated… the heart of  SB 1070 has been proven to be constitutional.” Less than an hour later, a friend of mine sent me an instant message asking, “Is she kidding??”

But the concerned immigrants and their supporters outside on the Capitol lawn agreed with the Governor. They felt defeated. Police would now be required to verify one’s immigration status if one was stopped for a separate reason and the officer suspected he or she of being undocumented.

It didn’t matter that that court had rejected provisions that would’ve made it a state crime to fail to carry alien registration documents and allowed for some warrantless arrests. Many analysts said the ruling favored the federal government and firmly placed immigration regulation in their hands. But all of that didn’t matter to the immigrants and their supporters.

A group of Spanish speaking women on the Capitol lawn were visibly upset. One of their daughters, no older than 14, explained that they’re nervous because half of them don’t have identification.

A late afternoon protest drew only a small crowd – especially compared to the crowds that gathered two years ago after SB 1070 was signed. One of the protest organizers, Orlando Arenas, explained it this way: They’re sick of “Juan Crow” laws. While he and others are sticking it out in Arizona, he says others have simply done what laws like SB 1070 wanted them to do. They’ve left.

Arenas and others say they know people who have gone. I heard “Colorado” mentioned often as a destination. But there is statistical evidence as well. After a law punishing employers who hire the undocumented, which took effect in 2008, the number of kids enrolled in schools K-12 across the state fell.  The Alhambra school district, which is nearly 80% Hispanic, had 15,200 students in 2007. In 2010, after SB 1070 was signed, it had dropped to 14,000. This is despite the fact that the overall population of the state is growing. The number of criminal aliens in the state prisons started falling in 2009 from 6,294 to 5,241 in the end of May this year.

Many say what these numbers really reflect is the tough economy made even worse by the lack of construction jobs due to the housing market bust.

But many immigrants and their supporters say laws like SB 1070 send a strong message. They feel unwelcome.

But perhaps just as telling are the immigrants who do have documentation. I talked to some in the immigrant community of Buckeye – a suburb of Phoenix filled with Spanish speakers. A woman there named Alicia runs a car maintenance shop. She said in Spanish that she doesn’t like SB 1070 but when I asked her if she’s fearful at all because of the law she shook her head, smiled and said proudly “I have papers.”

LISTEN to some of Jessica Rosenthal’s reporting on SB 1070 from Phoenix, Arizona:

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Supreme Court’s ruling on SB 1070.