There are no official figures but anecdotal evidence is that thousands of illegal immigrants have fled Arizona ahead of the new immigration law coming into effect.
Among the people packing up this week was the Aranda family. Originally from Mexico City, they have lived in the city of Phoenix, Arizona for eight years, but are too scared to stay.
Italia Aranda, a 20 year old student, explained: “Every time I go to school I’m worried that I’ll be pulled over by the police and not make it back home. I’m just going to school to study and do what I have to do and still, that’s a risk.”
The law – known as SB 1070 – is aimed at the estimated more than 400,000 thousand unauthorised migrants – living in Arizona, over 10 percent of the state’s population.
It makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime in Arizona and requires the police to investigate the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect of being undocumented.
Arizona borders Mexico and is a major corridor used by smugglers of drugs and people into the United States.
The politician who wrote the SB 1070 law, is Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce.
He said it is intended to curb crime and cut the cost to the state of illegals: “It’s not only a national security issue, but once they cross that border, it is our neighbourhoods, our health care, it is our criminal justice system, it our education system, it is our responsibility to our citizens to protect and to serve. We intend to enforce the law here in Arizona.”
The law also makes it an offence to knowingly transport illegal immigrants and to hire them as day labourers.
Opponents, like Phoenix resident Joseph Gabor, say it is unconstitutional and racist: “This new law is a racist law, unfortunately. I was born here, I am a US citizen, I served in the armed forces of this country and now I can be pulled over by the police just because I’m in my car and I’m Hispanic.”
With congressional elections due in November, the new law also has political dimensions.
It was enacted by Republicans. Democrat President Barack Obama is opposed to it saying immigration policy needs reforming, but at a national level.