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Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

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By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A combination of stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work. While this satisfies restrictionist lawmakers whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, it's not exactly the outcome they've been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most of these unauthorized Arizona emigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states -- a trend that's prompting state legislators to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is one state to experience a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona, according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents -- some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as "Arizona Plus," which incorporates many of Arizona's more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona's existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city's 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state's workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma's incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them -- effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn at Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas...shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authored another study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s--meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It's effective too, even though -- as Zinshteyn notes -- many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah's legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state's workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however. Colorlines.com's Julianne Hing notes that the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which -- while less draconian than Arizona's -- nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah's efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States -- particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.