I spent several days in the Phoenix area back in March, reporting for my fairly-soon-to-be published book "The Backlash." One place where I spent some time was on East Thomas Road, which is in the heart of the most-immigrant-laden area of East Phoenix, a nexus of the day laborers -- most of them undocumented -- who work construction and other types of physical labor for cash. The number of these day laborers in front of the Wal-Mart on East Thomas Road had dwindled considerably, in part because of harassment by nativist protestors but also because the housing market in Phoenix had collapsed. East Thomas Road was a hardscrabble place, to be sure, with lots of pawn shops and 79 cents taco drive-thru places, but I didn't feel like I was in some kind of nuclear fallout zone or anything. The local papers had a story about a controversial bill that appeared (at the time) to be stalled in the state legislature -- known officially as SB 1070.
That was only four months ago. This is East Thomas Road today:
(Photo by Nicholas Riccardi/Los Angeles Times)
Every time a customer buys some of the large fabric tote bags from the Dollar Store at 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road, Najmuddin Katchi sees another piece of his business vanish.
The purchase of the briefcase-sized shoulder bags means that another one of Katchi's customers, mostly Latino immigrants, is packing to leave the state before what is touted as the nation's toughest law against illegal immigrants takes effect July 29.
Katchi's store isn't the only business suffering. The vast shopping center that holds his small shop is almost empty. The Food City supermarket closed this spring. Then the furniture shop. Then the pizzeria.
All the news today has been about the last-minute legal jockeying over the racial-profiling immigration law that is slated to take effect tomorrow. A federal judge struck down the meat of the bill today -- liberals cheered, conservatives went after the judge as some kind of lefty loon, even though her job was by recommendation of conservative GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, and the case will probably go all the way to the Roberts Court (which might strike it down, because remember that big business doesn't like immigration crackdowns, and the Roberts Court simply adores big business.)
It's all a big sideshow. The goal of SB 1070 has already been mostly accomplished -- creating a climate of fear and loathing to drive away Mexicans, and not just those that are here without documents. This law hurts everybody -- it also harms non-Mexican residents of Arizona by blowing a huge whole in their already reeling economy. And it has greatly harmed all of America, and our reputation as the kind of nation that would never codify such ugliness in our laws. And it's too late for the damage to be undone.