The Impact of SB 1070 on Arizona's Youth

Cover of Left Back cover

In the spring of 2011, one year after the Arizona state legislature passed the controversial state law SB 1070, the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program in partnership with the Southwest Institute for Research on Women, set out to research the impact of SB 1070 on youth in Arizona.

The law, designed to reduce the size of Arizona's undocumented immigrant population through aggressive state enforcement of federal immigration laws, has never been fully implemented due to a court injunction. However, there is no question that SB 1070 has had real effects on the state. The Bacon Program and SIROW sought to understand the impact of the law on youth, in particular, because these effects were not as immediately visible as the economic impact of the law's passage, but have potentially equally significant implications for the future of the state.

The result of this effort is "Left Back: The Impact of SB 1070 on Arizona's Youth." This report, based on over 70 interviews in seven different schools in Pima County, summarizes the perspectives of teachers, parents, and students themselves on how young people have been impacted by the law's passage.

The report's findings reveal a disturbing picture of youth destabilized, disillusioned, and disadvantaged by the passage of SB 1070. Their communities have been frayed by the departure of family members and friends. Their educations have been undermined by, among other factors, decreased school enrollments and the distress left in the wake of those departures. Many young people and their families also maintain a powerful mistrust of the public institutions around them, especially police, but also often extending to schools.

Key Research Findings

Social Disruption
SB 1070's passage led a significant number of immigrants to leave and/or debate leaving Arizona. These departures, both anticipated and actual, had a range of consequences for those left behind, including the loss of friends and family, social and academic problems, anxiety-related health effects, and loss of trust in schools. Findings of the report include:

  • A school counselor who specializes in working with students who live without their parents reported that the number of students she served nearly doubled after the passage of SB 1070. She attributed much of this leap to the fact that many parents left the state and left their children behind to complete their schooling.
  • Several high school personnel shared their suspicions that SB 1070 triggered an increase in teenage marriages for immigration purposes.
  • School nurses and health staff for several schools reported an increase in stress-related health problems in their schools in the aftermath of the law's passage.
  • Several schools reported lost funding and resulting job cuts due to dropping school enrollment numbers.

Institutional Mistrust
SB 1070's passage and signing reinforced and deepened an existing mistrust of institutions in the immigrant community. This mistrust reshaped people's daily routines and reduced their civic and social engagement. It extended not just to law enforcement but also, at least in some cases, to schools as well. Findings of the report include:

  • A school principal spoke of having to convince parents his school was safe after receiving several calls from parents in the aftermath of SB 1070 who had heard that there were immigration 'sweeps' going on at local schools.
  • School parent liaisons discussed decreased participation in their programs.
  • A number of youth spoke of their reluctance to contact police when they otherwise might, out of a fear that police would call immigration authorities.

These and other impacts of the law are discussed in detail in the body of the report.