Terri Kimble, president and chief executive officer of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce, recently returned from Washington, D.C. after meeting with federal legislators to discuss immigration policy and its impact on the local economy.
Kimble traveled with 23 others, a group which included chamber members from across the state, and spoke with the chairman of the Subcommittee of Immigration and the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, among others. She also heard from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain said that of all the people entering the country illegally, 80 percent were coming through the Arizona border.
"The numbers of how this is affecting us financially, both locally and statewide, are astounding," Kimble said.
Non-residents cost Arizona $2.7 billion in 2009, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), up from $1.4 billion in 2004. Of the total, $1.6 billion stems from educating an estimated 170,000 students who are here illegally, about $700 million was spent in health care for non-residents and $339 million was spent for law enforcement, including the incarceration of criminals.
Kimble brought along an immigration policy statement that outlined five factors of policy reform. They suggested: The strengthening of border security; secure work eligibility verification; the establishment of a market-based immigration process to meet workplace needs and employment demands; the development of criteria for and establishment of a guest worker/visa program; and the reimbursement of states by the federal government "for costs of incarcerating, educating and providing health care for individuals in the country illegally." The statement went on to say, "The federal government should take responsibility for the breakdowns in federal immigration policy."
Following the enactment of Senate Bill 1070, local commerce has been greatly affected since activists called for a boycott of Arizona-based businesses. According to a report by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the impact of SB1070 has cost Arizona businesses more than $750 million since it was enacted.
"This is truly an economic issue," Kimble said, adding that she expects the issue to get a bigger spotlight as more states draft and introduce bills similar to SB1070.
Mississippi legislators passed SB 2179 on Jan. 18, which makes it a crime for an alien to be in the state without required paperwork. In total there are 13 states with bills in legislation or currently being drafted.
"It shows that other states are looking at what we are doing," Kimble said.