Most popular stories from USA TODAY

  1. HF Test1001.16:23:11.6792393
Hispanics flee Arizona ahead of immigration law
Updated 6/9/2010 11:41 AM ET
Arizona's tough new immigration enforcement law is fueling an exodus of Hispanics from the state seven weeks before it goes into effect, according to officials and residents in the state.

Though no one has precise figures, reports from school officials, businesses and individuals indicate worried Hispanics — both legal and illegal — are leaving the state in anticipation of the law, which will go into effect July 29.

Schools in Hispanic areas report unusual drops in enrollment. The Balsz Elementary School District is 75% Hispanic, and within a month of the law's passage, the parents of 70 students pulled them out of school, said District Superintendent Jeffrey Smith. The district lost seven students over the same one-month period last year, and parents tell Smith the Arizona law is the reason for leaving.

TRENDS: Ariz. Latinos register as Democrats CENSUS: Ariz. immigration law makes count tougher POLL: More Americans want tight immigration laws IN CALIFORNIA: Boycotts over Ariz. immigration law

"They're leaving to another state where they feel more welcome," he said.

The measure, signed into law April 23 by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, requires a police officer to determine a person's immigration status if they are stopped, detained or arrested and there is "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally.

About 100,000 illegal immigrants left Arizona after the state passed a law in 2007 that enhanced penalties on businesses that hired them, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Some early signs suggest another exodus.

Businesses serving the Hispanic community say business is down, signaling that illegal immigrants are holding on to cash in anticipation of a move from the state, said David Castillo, co-founder of the Latin Association of Arizona, a chamber of commerce for nearly 400 first-generation Hispanic business owners.

"(Brewer) signed the law, and everything fell apart," Castillo said. "It's devastating."

Jorge Vargas plans to move to New York City because his air-conditioning business relies mostly on Hispanics. "My business is completely dead," he said.

Juan Carlos Cruz, an illegal immigrant who has worked in plant nurseries for 20 years, huddled with dozens of relatives over the Memorial Day Weekend in the backyard of his brother's Phoenix-area home to plot out the family's next move to avoid what they say will be harassment by police. Virginia and California are the front-runners.

"If I were alone, I'd try to stay. But I have a family, and I have to find a place where we can live with more freedom," said Cruz, who hopes to move July 4 to blend in with holiday weekend traffic. "This is getting too hard."

Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Brewer, said it's difficult to gauge how many people are leaving because of the law, but he said he hears similar reports of people leaving the state.

"If that means that fewer people are breaking the law, that is absolutely an accomplishment," he said.

Posted 6/8/2010 5:26 PM ET
Updated 6/9/2010 11:41 AM ET