Immigrants Poised to Change Arizona Politics

Communications Associate

March 21, 2016

In 2010, Arizona enacted SB 1070. Among other things, the law would have required state law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration laws. It was viewed as harshly punitive toward immigrants, and its enactment garnered protests nationwide that included boycotts costing the state millions of dollars.

The law helped spark a reaction that is still under way today. The law’s chief sponsor, Russell Pearce, was defeated in a recall election with the help of a business community eager to repair the state’s reputation. He was the first Arizona legislator in history to be recalled. Most of the law was ultimately struck down in the courts.


“We engage this issue not as partisans or politicos but as pastors who are called to love our neighbor and our neighborhood. We are simply responding to the needs of our congregations. The families being separated by a broken immigration system worship and weep in our churches. If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it.”

– Tyler Johnson, Lead Pastor, Redemption Church

A Growing Latino, Asian and Immigrant Electorate

Arizona is in the midst of demographic changes that eventually will change the temperature of the immigration debate in the state. According to the Census Bureau, in the 2014 congressional election, nearly 32 percent of Arizona’s eligible Latinos voted, a rate somewhat above that of Latinos nationwide (27 percent) in that off-year election.

The Latino, Asian and immigrant electorate will grow significantly by 2020. Between 2012 and 2020, the Partnership for a New American Economy has estimated that there will be 339,600 new Latinos in the electorate — including those born here and turning 18, and immigrants age 18 and over who will naturalize. On top of that, an estimated 43,300 Asians will join the electorate. These new voters will have an impact in a closely divided state where the last presidential election was decided by about 208,000 votes.

Immigrants are Integral to Arizona’s Economy

The foreign-born make up 13.5 percent of the Arizona population, but their share of the state’s workforce is greater — 16.7 percent. Seven in 10 of the state’s immigrants live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and the growth in the share of immigrants in the Phoenix metro area’s workforce from 1990 to 2005-2007 was the second highest in the nation (at 12.4 percent). Undocumented immigrants made up 6 percent of the state’s workforce in 2013, so the removal of all undocumented immigrants would deal a significant blow to the state’s economy.

Asians and Latinos wield a collective $47.5 billion in purchasing power. Immigrants moving to Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, between 2000 and 2010 have added $18,000 to the average price of a home, according to estimates. The county’s housing market has benefited from immigration more than all but three other counties in the U.S. That trend is likely to continue as mainly white baby boomers move out of their homes and sell them to a more diverse homebuyer population.

Immigrants own 20 percent of Arizona’s businesses. Immigrant-owned businesses generate $2.2 billion, 14 percent of the state’s net business income.

Foreign students also make a significant contribution and help drive the innovation economy. In the 2014-2015 academic year, more than 20,000 foreign students lived in Arizona, contributing $618 million to the state’s economy in tuition, fees and living expenses. These students supported more than 8,600 jobs statewide. In 2009, foreign students earned nearly half of the state’s advanced degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Arizona’s colleges and universities awarded 47.9 percent of their master’s degrees and 46.5 percent of their doctoral degrees in the STEM fields to foreign students.

Immigrants Pay Billions in Annual Taxes, Would Pay More with Legal Status

Latinos in Arizona paid $6.2 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2013. Of that total, immigrant Latinos paid $2 billion. In 2010, state and local taxes taken in from undocumented immigrants totaled $374 million, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Arizona could benefit further if undocumented immigrants were provided the opportunity to earn citizenship. With legal status alone these immigrants would pay an additional $55 million in state and local taxes, according to estimates.

On the flip side, removing all undocumented immigrants would deal a financial blow to the state. The American Immigration Council estimates that if all undocumented immigrants were removed, the state would suffer a loss in economic activity totaling $48.8 billion, and more than a half million jobs would be lost.

City-level Policies Are More Welcoming

The political divide between government at the state level and that of the major population centers in the state is not unique to Arizona. While state government leaders were posturing to look tough on immigrants and immigration, the governments of Phoenix, Tucson and other Arizona cities displayed a more welcoming attitude.

In 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s SB 1070, the mayor and City Council of Tucson (Arizona’s second-largest city) voted to establish it as an “Immigrant Welcoming City,” and today Tucson is a member municipality of Welcoming America.

In 2014, with an immigration reform bill awaiting House action, the mayors of Avondale, Phoenix and Tucson signed a letter urging Congress to complete its work on immigration reform that includes a “pathway to earned citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.

After President Obama announced his executive actions on immigration in 2014, the mayor of Phoenix joined Cities United for Immigration Action, a coalition of municipalities that have pledged to assist those who qualify for relief under the president’s administrative actions.

By adopting a welcoming posture toward immigrants, these metro leaders were not going out on a limb. A majority of Arizona residents support immigration reform that would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. According to research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2014, 63 percent of Arizona residents favored immigration reform that included a way for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. Another 16 percent of Arizonans favored providing these immigrants a way to earn permanent legal residency but not citizenship.

Arizona Faith, Law Enforcement and Business Media Availability

Tyler Johnson, Lead Pastor, Redemption Church Arizona

Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., Senior Pastor, First Institutional Baptist Church, Phoenix; Board Member, National Immigration Forum

Police Chief Roy Minter, Peoria

Retired Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, Tucson

Todd Sanders, President and CEO, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce

Nan Walden, Vice President and General Counsel, Farmers Investment Company; Board Member, National Immigration Forum

Please contact Cathleen Farrell to arrange interviews.