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Season 2

Listen to the full season of 'Rediscovering: SB 1070'

In this season, we'll retrace the history of SB 1070: How it happened, who advocated for it and why it still matters.

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In April 2010, Arizona enacted the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, better known as Senate Bill 1070. The state law required police officers to inquire about the legal status of anyone they thought might be in the country illegally.  

But what would make an officer think someone was in the country illegally?

To its opponents, it codified and provided legal cover for racial profiling, something that continues to be an issue. 

To its supporters, SB 1070 tackled the issue of illegal immigration in a way that Washington would not. The law was a state-level response to a national issue that had stalled in Congress. It sought to break the federal log jam and show the nation that if Congress wouldn't tackle immigration reform, Arizona would. 

Ten years later, the law played a role in reducing the size of the state’s undocumented population and unquestionably reshaped Arizona politics. It also may have influenced the political rise of President Donald Trump. 

In this season of Rediscovering, we'll retrace the history of SB 1070: how it happened, who advocated for it and why it still matters a decade later. 

We’ll speak to former Gov. Jan Brewer, SB 1070 architect Russell Pearce, Arizona’s senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and young Latino and immigrant activists whose lives were forever shaped by the legislation.

Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Radio or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 1: You’re not welcome here 

Available now: In the early 2000s, Arizona’s rapid population growth and investor speculation fueled a homebuilding binge in the state. 

Contractors took advantage of a lax employment-verification system and hired undocumented workers at a cut rate, often from Mexico, in droves.

At its peak, Arizona proportionately had the second-largest undocumented population of any state in the country, behind only Nevada. About one in 12 residents was undocumented. 

Consumers and businesses liked the low-cost labor. But not everyone liked the changing demographics of their neighborhoods.

State legislators tried to address the issue, but critics called the attempts piecemeal. Congress failed multiple times at passing immigration reform. 

An economic recession, a dramatic citizen’s arrest and a tragic death exacerbated tensions.

Click here for a transcript of part one.

Episode 2: They think they can survive without Mexican labor? 

Available now: The 1993 North American Free Trade Act, or NAFTA, put an estimated 2 million Mexican farmers out of business. Food prices in Mexico went up, while wages, after adjusting for inflation, declined. 

The consequences of NAFTA and spiking unemployment from the peso currency crisis incentivized many Mexicans to head north to the U.S. in search of a better life.

But with more people seeking opportunity in the U.S., human smugglers known as coyotes saw a lucrative opportunity. One in which vulnerable migrants would be exploited for the sliver of hope they thought possible in Arizona.  

Those who made it to Arizona, however, were met with hostile state legislators intent on squandering any potential path to prosperity that may have existed for migrants. Those same legislators conflated migrants with exploitative smugglers. Latino citizens already living in Arizona beared the wrath of discriminatory legislation, racial profiling by police and racist behavior by peers.

Click here for a transcript of part two.

Episode 3: Burn that Capitol down

Available now: For two decades and through three administrations, Arizonans waited for the federal government to solve the issue that many felt was right at their doorstep. They were left without a solution.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all tried to move the needle on immigration reform. They were unsuccessful.

The unsolved murder of a Cochise County rancher, which was pinned on undocumented immigrants by authorities and echoed in mass media, exacerbated hostilities.  

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1070 had passed both Arizona chambers and was sitting on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk. The political pressure weighed on the governor, who had to consider her upcoming re-election bid. 

She could sign it into law, veto it, or let it pass by default without her signature. Nobody, not even her closest staff, knew what she would do. 

Click here for a transcript of part three.

Episode 4: That’s their image of us 

Available now: While national leaders weighed in on the passage of Senate Bill 1070, on the ground in Arizona, it was already emptying neighborhoods. The grim exodus played out quietly all over the state. 

To the rest of the country, the law served as a laugh track and spectacle.

The images of Arizona as a racist, backward-looking state didn’t help its economy.

Within weeks of signing the law, the state’s tourism industry counted at least two dozen events that were cancelled. A Scottsdale consulting firm estimated that in the four months after the bill became law, Arizona missed out on $141 million from conferences that had been canceled. It also cost the state about 2,700 jobs in that time.  

When SB 1070 faced legal challenges, Gov. Jan Brewer had no question of what she would do next. Her legal team appealed the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But the immigrants rights community in Arizona wasn’t through fighting. They began organizing. 

Click here for a transcript of part four.

Episode 5: Nothing lasts forever

Available now: Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 took years of effort that culminated in a moment when the Legislature, the governor and the public — pushed by a terrible slaying agreed — to do something about illegal immigration, even if the White House and Congress couldn’t.

Closer to the time of its passage, SB 1070 was popular and was a good way to win elections in Arizona. Russell Pearce, Jan Brewer and John McCain were all re-elected taking hardliner positions in 2010. 

For better or worse, the law reshaped Arizona politics and set an example to others about the political potency of nativism and border security.

But the Latino and migrant communities, those most directly impacted by those policies, have pushed back. 

It’s a law that has galvanized a new generation of activists. Combined with Arizona’s rapid growth among transplants and Latinos, it helped make the state a political battleground in the 2020 election year. It’s a dramatic shift for a state that was reliably red in presidential elections for most of the past 64 years. 

Today, running against SB 1070 and the politics of oppression is a good way to win elections in Arizona, even if the White House wants to change all that.

Click here for a transcript of part five.

Storm clouds gather over a sign asking if Senate Bill 1070 is the solution to the illegal immigration crisis on July 22, 2010. About 50 people gathered on a street corner in a Hispanic neighborhood in Phoenix to pray the rosary. They were members of a Catholic community that opposed Arizona's tough new immigration law, SB 1070, which required local police officers to check the immigration status of people they suspected of being in the U.S. illegally and required legal immigrants in Arizona to carry their immigration documents with them at all times.
Republic file photo
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