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How immigration ruling affects Arizona's economy

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officer prepares an undocumented Salvadorian immigrant for a deportation flight bound for San Salvador on Dec. 8, 2010 in Mesa, Ariz. The Supreme Court struck down many provisions of Arizona's SB1070. Workers, employers and police try to determine what comes next.

Kai Ryssdal: The Supreme Court spoke this morning. Not on health care, as you may have already heard. The big case du jour was Arizona et al versus United States, about Arizona's immigration law, known as SB 1070.

It was a mixed ruling. Most of the law was struck down; its most controversial provision, though, was upheld.

From the Fronteras Desk at KJZZ in Phoenix, Peter O'Dowd starts us off.


Peter O'Dowd: The state of Arizona has already spent nearly $3 million defending the law. And the investment was worth it, according to state leaders like Gov. Jan Brewer. She called the court's ruling a victory for states like Arizona struggling with illegal immigration.

Jan Brewer: We cannot forget that we are here today because the federal government failed the American people regarding immigration policy has failed to protect its citizens, has failed to protect the rule of law and failed to secure our borders.

The court struck down three provisions of the law, but upheld what supporters call the heart of SB1070, the part that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect is in the country illegally.

Larry Dever: I consider it a win.

Larry Dever is sheriff of Cochise County, which borders Mexico. He says the ruling will be a deterrent for illegal immigrants to cross into the United States.

Dever: One of the purposes of it was to deliver a very strong message to people coming into Arizona that this is not the place you want to come. So we anticipate reduced traffic across the border.

So what does that mean for the state's economy? Pablo Alvarado, who heads the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, puts it this way.

Pablo Alvarado: It only makes it more difficult.

Since 2009, it's estimated that more than 100,000 illegal immigrants left Arizona on their own. It's unclear whether it was the state's weak job market or the political climate that spurred that departure. But Alvarado says workers in low-skilled industries -- like construction and agriculture -- will go further underground.

Alvarado: The question is how that employer is going to replace that worker, and this has huge impacts on the economy of Arizona.

Not everyone in these industries expect a mass exodus of workers. Tim Dunn is a farmer in the southern Arizona city of Yuma. He says most of the people who planned on leaving have already left. Dunn grows broccoli and wheat, and he barely has enough seasonal workers to get by.

Tim Dunn: The longer we debate whether or not the state can enforce the law or the federal government can enforce the law, we're not focusing on the visa reform and labor reform we need. We're just focusing on who has the right to do the enforcement.

Dunn hopes the country moves quickly on immigration and visa reform. Because once the economy picks up again, he's going to need a lot more workers in his fields.

In Phoenix, I'm Peter O'Dowd for Marketplace.


Additional reporting by Michel Marizco.

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