NBC Reporter Discovers New Immigration Law Causing Illegals to Leave Arizona

NBC's Lee Cowan, on Thursday's NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, discovered a stunning result of Arizona's new immigration policies - illegal immigrants are now leaving the state. Cowan opened his piece noting a long line now "stretches around the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix every day" but noticed a twist, as the line was full of "immigrants trying to figure out not how to stay in Arizona, but how to flee it."

Cowan peppered his story with anecdotes of local businesses losing customers "A look around this once-bustling barrio is telling. The local hair salon has more empty chairs now than customers" and schools losing students as he claimed "School numbers are dwindling, too. This one is 75 percent Hispanic. Since the immigration law passed, they've lost more than 100 students." Cowan even punctuated this factoid with the sob story of a boy being taken out of school by his father to go back to Mexico:

LEE COWAN: For the Bolanos family, they stayed as long as they could.

MARCIAL BOLANOS, ARIZONA RESIDENT: Arizona is a good state, but no more now.

COWAN: He took his 15-year-old son out of school and is headed back to Mexico, which brings Hugo to tears. But you're really going to miss your friends?

HUGO BOLANOS: Yeah.

While Cowan did air a soundbite of a Republican state senator who pointed out that it was "kind of a novel idea" that people were "actually worried they may be arrested for breaking the law" he concluded his piece by emphasizing the economic cost of Arizona's new immigration policy: "It may be months before anyone knows for sure just how many illegal immigrants and their business the law has scared away. Supporters say good riddance, but critics fear the damage has already started."

The following is a transcript of the Cowan segment as it was aired on the July 8 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now we turn to Arizona, where the federal government is challenging the state's tough new immigration law. Arizona's governor set up a fund to defend the law. As of today, 9,000 people, mostly from out of state, have contributed a half a million dollars to the effort. Some of those targeted by the new law are not waiting for it to take effect later this summer. They're leaving the state now. NBC's Lee Cowan has our report.

LEE COWAN: One way to measure the effect of Arizona's pending immigration law is the length of this line. It stretches around the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix every day, immigrants trying to figure out not how to stay in Arizona, but how to flee it.

LUIS BALENCEA, ARIZONA RESIDENT: There's a lot of people already leaving for New Mexico, leaving something else, you know.

COWAN: Anywhere but here.

BALENCEA: Anywhere, yeah. Nobody want to stay here.

COWAN: A look around this once-bustling barrio is telling. The local hair salon has more empty chairs now than customers. The owner is even losing two employees.

ROSANA QUINTERO, SALON OWNER: People look very sad. And we feel sad, too.

COWAN: The café next door is even emptier.

MARIA SIERRA, BUSINESS OWNER: I ask the people, and they say they afraid to come out.

COWAN: School numbers are dwindling, too. This one is 75 percent Hispanic. Since the immigration law passed, they've lost more than 100 students.

JEFF SMITH, BALSZ SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: This is sort of the tip of the iceberg. More are waiting until the law goes into effect, and then we'll see more people leaving during the summer.

COWAN: To the authors of Arizona's tough new immigration stance, if there is a mass exodus of illegal immigrants, so be it.

REPUBLICAN STATE SENATOR RUSSELL PEARCE: Kind of a novel idea, you know, people actually worried they may be arrested for breaking the law.

COWAN: The problem is there really are no hard numbers on the issue. So the question critics are asking: Is this exodus a myth or a fact?

BILL HART, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY: We think it's fact. We don't exactly know what's happening, but we know something's happening on a large scale.

COWAN: For the Bolanos family, they stayed as long as they could.

MARCIAL BOLANOS, ARIZONA RESIDENT: Arizona is a good state, but no more now.

COWAN: He took his 15-year-old son out of school and is headed back to Mexico, which brings Hugo to tears. But you're really going to miss your friends?

HUGO BOLANOS: Yeah.

COWAN: And your school?

(Hugo nods head)

COWAN: It may be months before anyone knows for sure just how many illegal immigrants and their business the law has scared away. Supporters say good riddance, but critics fear the damage has already started. Lee Cowan, NBC News, Phoenix.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.