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Arizona’s Great Hispanic Exodus: A Media-Propelled Fiction


Last week, a little-known research group released a report stating that 100,000 Latinos had left Arizona in recent months—presumably driven away by SB 1070, the state’s controversial anti-immigrant law. Since then, media outlets from the Associated Press to Fox News (and even our beloved Think Progress!) have treated the specious statistic as fact, despite the report’s conspicuous lack of cited evidence.

The report, published by BBVA Research, a subsidiary of the financial services group of the same name, claims that the unlikely figure was derived from Current Population Survey (CPS) data, but doesn’t include any of the supporting data itself. The report’s appendices include some CPS figures, but nothing specific to Arizona and none of which illustrate any meaningful change in the general Hispanic population. A cursory examination of data tables available on the CPS and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) websites, as well as a quick consultation with a BLS “information specialist,” similarly failed to substantiate the claim.

The only other evidence the authors provide to bolster their estimate is a misappropriated statistic from a Mexican government press release:

…between June and September 2010, approximately 23,380 Mexicans moved from Arizona back to their home towns and cities.

But the problem is that the figure cited doesn’t refer to immigrants settled in Arizona, but rather to border crossers apprehended in the desert areas of the Sonora-Arizona corridor. The press release cited as the source of that information concerns a bi-national repatriation program, which transports apprehended border-crossers to their homes in Mexico during the hottest months of the year.

The 100,000-strong exodus—at least as represented in the report—is completely baseless.

While I don’t doubt that the undocumented Latino population in Arizona has decreased in recent months due to increased deportations, the notion of a mass exodus seems rather sensationalist and counterproductive.

In addition to reinforcing the misguided “attrition through enforcement” rationale behind draconian immigration laws like SB 1070, it fails to meaningfully consider how our communities are literally being shaped by stricter immigration enforcement policies. 

In the last year, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has removed 66,035 undocumented immigrants from Arizona—and more than 223,000 since 2008. Now, with the recent expansion of the controversial Secure Communities program to all Arizona counties, that number is likely to increase significantly. The continued removal of such a large number of workers, consumers, and taxpayers has serious implications for the state’s economy—not to mention an overwhelming social and cultural impact on its communities.

At its core, that is what the BBVA report was getting at. For all of its analytical flaws, the report ultimately argues that fewer immigrants mean a weaker economy. This means that SB 1070 is ultimately bad for business. But the researchers didn’t look hard enough at the role of enforcement, of which SB 1070 is only a small part. One possibility is that someone, somewhere glossed over a few factors in an effort build support for a foregone conclusion. While I happen to agree with that conclusion, I don’t believe in mucking up or misrepresenting facts in service of it.   

Media made this story about a mass exodus of Hispanics from America without separating the wheat from the chaff. Such irresponsible reporting has done the public a disservice. They’ve added one more bit of misinformation to our already sullied immigration discourse.

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