Arizona’s New Hiring Law Hits Chandler Businesses

Sarah Muench, Arizona Republic, December 9, 2007

Some Chandler businesses are taking a hit this holiday season as their main clientele—undocumented immigrants—leaves the city before the state’s new hiring law goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Shops, such as Quintero Jewelry & More, are struggling to stay afloat as customers either pack up and move or save money while they see how the new law will affect them.

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Many argue that business owners whose principal clientele comprises undocumented immigrants have assumed a certain level of risk by catering to workers who are in the country illegally.

And as the immigration issue becomes hotter in Arizona, many state and local leaders are redoubling their efforts to crack down on those who employ or otherwise cater to the migrant population.

Chandler long has been a hotbed of immigration tension. Ten years ago, the municipality made headlines for a controversial roundup of undocumented immigrants, which resulted in allegations of civil-rights violations.

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“We have many illegal (customers) around this area, and all of them have left for Mexico, Guatemala, New Mexico,” said Teresa Quintero, who owns Quintero Jewelry & More, inside Plaza del Sol shopping center near Arizona Avenue and Galveston Street.

“Now, we can’t even pay half our (store’s) rent.”

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The state’s hiring law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, but business groups have asked a federal judge to toss it out, arguing that it is unconstitutional and that it invites racial profiling.

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In the meantime, immigrants in large numbers are holding on to their money and waiting to see what happens in early 2008.

At the same time, though, Chandler is seeing the effects on its businesses right now.

Loss of sales

More than two months ago, Teresa Quintero said her jewelry store was full of customers.

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Now, Quintero and her husband Urbano are “just holding on,” and even hand out fliers on the street.

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Carnicería and Panadería Mama Mia, a grocery store with Mexican products near Arizona Avenue and Pecos Road, is trying to counteract the loss of customers by appealing to a different clientele.

“We are changing the store over to more of an Anglo-American store, but we’ll keep it (mostly) an ethnic store,” said George Mihilli, the store’s owner.

He said he has lost 50 percent to 60 percent of his sales.

“They spent money. What their (legal) status is none of my business,” he said. “They brought the state business.”

Mihilli said he’s advertising in English-language newspapers, significantly lowering prices on products and axing services like Western Union wire transfers and international phone cards.

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Looking for work

Fewer undocumented immigrants are gathering at a Chandler day-labor center and along Arizona Avenue soliciting work, said Mainor Martínez, an undocumented construction worker from Campeche, Mexico.

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Slower growth

Many businesses are putting their own growth plans on hold, until the uncertainty about the law and its impact has passed, McLaren said.

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