TUCSON -- On the day the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Arizona’s law to combat illegal immigration, Arizonans reflected on what the controversy over the law had meant for the state.
“It makes me sad,” said Brittny Mejia, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “I don’t like what’s happening in the state.”
Kathleen Hertenstein, who teaches English as a second language at the university and has lived in Tucson for 20 years, said the law certainly had tarnished the state’s reputation in the eyes of many. “People view Arizonans as the backward, uneducated, racist people of the country,” she said in an interview.
A boycott of the state in protest of the law also hit hard.
One study by the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress said that conventions canceled after SB 1070 cost the state more than $23 million in lost tax revenue and at least $350 million in direct spending by conventions’ would-be attendees.
But the state has also won considerable praise, and other states, notably Alabama and Georgia, patterned legislation after Arizona’s law.
Melissa Watson, 27, and Angela Creamer, 23, of Tucson both support the law and acknowledged in an interview that Arizona’s reputation had taken a beating because of it. They’ve both seen a lot of bumper stickers in the Tucson area denouncing it. One popular sticker says, “I could be illegal.”
“There are a lot more bumper stickers,” Creamer said.
“We’ve been called racist,” Watson said of the state. “But, yeah, lots of bumper stickers.”
Both view the law as valuable. “I think Arizona should be putting in a lot more resources in protecting our border,” Watson said.
Yahya Nomaam, 20, a junior at the University of Arizona, was born and raised in Tucson and is of Pakistani descent.
“I think it’s a sad attack on civil liberties. I seem really Latino and I’m not,” he said, adding that his uncles had received extra scrutiny from police during traffic stops presumably because of their appearance.
Nomaam noted how some people outside of Arizona had mocked the state because of the law.
“According to Jon Stewart, we’re the most racist state in the nation,” he said. The comedian and host of “The Daily Show” has often chastised Arizona. In one routine, he noted that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called states the “laboratories” of democracy. Arizona, Stewart said, was the “meth lab of democracy.”
In Arizona, however, polls show that the law remains popular across the state – and beyond. As the Supreme Court heard arguments about the law Wednesday, one of the many protesters outside held a sign reading, “Thank you, Arizona!”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday noted the support the state had received for the legislation.
“Today, more than two years after I signed SB 1070 into law, the state of Arizona had its opportunity to defend this measure before the United States Supreme Court,” Brewer said in a statement. “Many people never gave us a chance to get this far, and it is only due to the continuing support and encouragement of the American people that it was possible.”
Brewer added: “Of course, we likely will not know the court’s decision for weeks. But I am filled with optimism – the kind that comes with knowing that Arizona’s cause is just and its course is true.”
The Supreme Court isn’t expected to rule until summer, but in remarks made from the bench Wednesday, most of the justices suggested they had no problem with a provision in the law that requires police officers to check the immigration status of people who are stopped for other reasons.
Other parts of the law appeared less secure. The justices expressed uneasiness about provisions that made it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek work or to not carry documents.