For citizens and illegal immigrants alike, Arizona law hits hard

Illegal immigrants Leticia Ramirez, her husband and child in Arizona on April 25, 2012.
Illegal immigrants Leticia Ramirez, her husband and child in Arizona on April 25, 2012.
CBS News

(CBS News) - Arizona says the federal government has failed to stop illegal immigration, so the state had to take matters into its own hands. That was the heart of an argument before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

In 2010, Arizona passed an aggressive law designed to make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they'd choose to leave.

Most of the Arizona law is on hold while the court makes its decision. But even so, the law is changing lives. CBS correspondent Brian Rooney explains how.

Leticia Ramirez and her husband are both illegal immigrants from Mexico. He did not want us to identify him.

"Sometimes I'm afraid when I see my husband leave in the morning that he might never come back," said Leticia Ramirez. "That when I take my kids to school, that I might get stopped even walking."

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Her parents brought her from Mexico when she was 8 years old. She's lived in Arizona for 19 years. She worries deportation would separate her from her three children who where born here and are therefore U.S. citizens.

She's already made arrangements.

"For myself, they're going to be taken care of by a friend if that day happens" said Ramirez.

Residents told CBS News that they have noticed stores closed and less traffic in immigrant neighborhoods. State Rep. Steve Montenegro, a legal immigrant born in El Salvador, voted for the Arizona law, called SB 1070.

"I think that 1070 pretty much takes the handcuffs off of police officers, so that they can do the job that they have already been prescribed by the federal government to do" said Montenegro.

The law passed by a comfortable margin in both houses of the Republican-controlled legislature.

"Here in Arizona we have a lot of problems when it comes to open borders, when it comes to not enforcing federal immigration laws, which causes a lot of chaos in our streets" said Montenegro.

He said people have already left the state as a result of the law and crime is down.

But by how much and why is a matter of debate. Crime in Arizona was trending to a 30-year low before the law was signed by the Governor.

Thousands of illegal immigrants have left the state, according to at least two population studies, but there's no reliable count and it's unknown whether the exit was caused by the law or a sluggish economy.

American citizens like Jim Shee say they have also felt the law's impact. Shee was born in America to Chinese and Hispanic parents and says he's been pulled over twice and asked for, in the words of the police, "his papers."

A U.S. citizen, born and raised in Arizona, Shee carries a passport. "I always have it," he said. "It's the primo identification and it'll stop the inquisition, hopefully."

Last year, some 56,000 people were deported and another 18,000 so far in 2012. That's on top of tens of thousand who have left voluntarily.