Op-ed: SB1070 failed — it didn’t make anyone safer

Wednesday, July 29 marked the 10-year anniversary since the controversial implementation of SB 1070. Commonly called the “show-me-your-papers” law, supporters argued that it would reduce crime in communities. But has SB 1070 actually made Arizonans safer? New evidence suggests it has not.

Let’s rewind to the mid-2000s. Illegal immigration was a major concern for Arizonans. In 2007, the population of undocumented residents in the state peaked at about 500,000. This was nearly 8% of the population.

Most immigration laws are passed by Congress. Yet policymakers who want stronger enforcement have found ways to step it up through relying on state-level actions.

The Arizona Legislature did just that in 2007 with the E-Verify law, which prevented businesses from hiring unlawful residents. However, this is an indirect method of immigration enforcement.

Seeking a more direct approach, Arizona passed SB 1070 in 2010 after several attempts. This law mirrored federal immigration law, giving state and local law enforcement the authority to enforce immigration law. Among its wide range of provisions, it requires law enforcement to verify the immigration status of an individual if there is reasonable suspicion about their residency status.

In a recent working paper for the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, we estimated the effects of SB 1070 on public safety. Overall, the bill made Arizona less safe. Our study shows that SB 1070 was associated with a 20% increase in violent crimes like rape and aggravated assault.

So what’s happening? Police work is already difficult, and adding immigration enforcement to law enforcement’s plate spreads out police resources. In short, the time that a police officer uses asking about immigration status can’t be spent investigating other crimes.

We currently make legal immigration difficult. Each country has a quota that caps the number of immigrants that can come from another country, regardless of how many want to come. The process is long and arduous, forcing people to wait for decades. Many who come legally on temporary work visas are forced to wait for years before obtaining legal status because they have to rely on employers to sponsor their permanent residency. Thus, many come illegally.

Read the full op-ed at the Arizona Daily Star.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.