Are Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Laws Working? Not Likely

Marciopa County's had a 40 percent drop in the number of suspected undocumented immigrants in its county jails. But numbers lie.

By Julianne Hing Mar 07, 2011

The number of people sitting in Arizona county jails because they’re suspected of being undocumented has declined by 40 percent over the last three years, the Arizona Republic reported.

But a lonely statistic is just a number. Left in the hands of immigration restrictionists it becomes proof that anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070, parts of which are in effect in Arizona, are working to both crack down on immigrants and deter more from arriving. They use the number to congratulate themselves on a job well done and leave it there.

Immigrant rights groups say the real explanation is much more complicated. In the wake of SB 1070, many undocumented immigrants also left the state, exactly the effect immigration restrictionists wanted. Immigration experts also point to the economic downturn, which has led to a decline in migration into the country across the board.

And even though the number of people in county jails is down, both immigration detentions and deportations are up. Immigration experts argue that programs like Secure Communities mean people are getting swept up in the deportation dragnet and being funneled through jails.

Secure Communities allows Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to have a peek at the fingerprints of everyone who’s ever grabbed by an Arizona law-enforcement agency, even if they’re never arrested, charged or convicted. Indeed, the majority of Arizona’s undocumented immigrants who are deported via Secure Communities had no prior criminal record, the Arizona Republic reported. Secure Communities is rapidly expanding across the country.

This piece has been updated from its original version.