Drop in legal Mexican visitors hurts southern Arizona

August 12, 2010 by
Categories: Immigration Reform, Legal, Tourism

Legal Mexican Visitors DecreasesBy Dennis Wagner, USA Today

NOGALES, Ariz. — The number of legal visitors entering Arizona from Mexico has plummeted amid the controversy of increased enforcement of state immigration laws.

Total cross-border visits into Arizona in the months after Gov. Jan Brewer signed the immigration enforcement law in April have fallen 17% compared with the same period in 2009, according to Customs and Border Protection data. The drop-off amounts to about 12,500 fewer people daily, the data show.

Four days after Brewer, a Republican, signed the illegal-immigration enforcement law, Mexico issued a warning to its citizens about travel into Arizona.

Across the entire Southwest border during that same time frame, where that law has not been an issue, lawful entries by land from Mexico fell by less than 7%, according to the data.

Erik Lee, associate director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, said reduced tourism can be blamed on "a little bit of everything," but the net result is a big financial hit. "Southern Arizona's economy really depends on the relentless Mexican shoppers," he said.

The drop in tourism has been a trend for several years. In fiscal 2007-08, according to Customs and Border Protection data, nearly 209 million people came into the U.S. legally via land ports from Mexico. That number dropped 10% last year — even before Arizona's immigration-law controversy.

A study issued in January by the University of Arizona's Economic and Business Research Center says the more than 24 million legal visitors who visited the state in 2007-08 spent about $2.7 billion at stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses. "Almost 23,400 wage-and-salary jobs in Arizona are directly attributable to Mexican visitor spending," the report says.

Tucson and Pima County, Ariz., are listed as the greatest beneficiaries, with $1 billion in annual receipts from Mexican visitors, that study showed. Phoenix and Maricopa County ranked second, with $694 million.

Ernesto Chavez runs a stationery store on Morley Avenue, a border shopping district in Nogales that caters to customers from Mexico. He says business is down 70%, the worst in the 50 years he has been at the location.

Although Chavez primarily blames the recession, he said Arizona politicians compounded problems. Across the street, Noemi Lee, co-owner of Casa Noemi, said business at her apparel store dropped mostly because of longer waits at entry points and the new law. "The people just don't come anymore. They believe there is discrimination. They're angry," she said.

Wagner reports for The Arizona Republic.