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What the Devil won't tell you

Arizona tops migrant decline, but still leads nation in being Arizona

All our problems are solved. We are well on our way to a form of desert nirvana. Nothing can hurt us. No one can stop us, Arizona.

The illegal occupation has ended. Arizona, at least, is somewhat great again.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center released last week, net illegal immigration has fallen nationally to its lowest level in decades. And who leads the way with the biggest proportional drop in undocumented neighbors?

We do. That's right. Eat our Wonder Bread, California. "They" are outta here.

Now the asylum-seekers from places like Guatemala and Honduras are crossing the border in growing numbers since Donald Trump took office. But for 10 years there — mostly under President Barack Obama — illegal immigration was on the wane.

By 2017, the state’s population of what Steve Bannon and pals portray as no-good, up-to-trouble, nothing-but-shifty invaders had fallen by about 44 percent over the previous decade. Back in the final days of the Bush administration and during Big Bang Theory’s first season, Arizona was under a state of siege with about 500,000 illegal immigrants living among us. By 2017, the number had fallen to 280,000.

They're vanishing like rock bands from the charts, so the state's problems are too, right? Well ... let's not sour the celebration at the tea party but ....

Nationally, the country was beset by 12.2 million illegal immigrants in 2007. In 2017, there was a net loss of 1.7 million.

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The Pew Center is pretty darned good with its research (and FYI, the gold standard of public-opinion polling). They based their conclusions on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is conducted between the honking decennial surveys. These are the same data-crunchers who were ballyhooed by the anti-illegal immigrant crowd as the Pew crew added up the numbers of migrants in the early 2000s. To call them a part of an elitist conspiracy to upend President Trump now is to say that conspiracy predated his candidacy by 15 years.

Rejoice! This is the news the Arizona Minutemen and Arizona Border Recon and the rest of the tacticool lawnchair-occupying LARPers who drove their RVs down from Cedar Rapids to stem the tide of caravan-ing invaders have been waiting on like Wildcat fans await the Rose Bowl.

Not that it’s all pretty petals and floral aromas in terms of dem dere illegals. There are some thorny truths for those who think this country isn't theirs anymore.

According to Pew data released earlier this month, a full quarter of the U.S. population either is an immigrant or has at least one parent who was born outside our country’s borders and that number is nearly twice what it was in 1970. On the other hand, during the first 30 years of the 20th century, about one in three Americans fit that description.

While the numbers are on the rise, so too are the percentages of those immigrants and children of immigrants with degrees. In 1960, only 10 percent of migrants and their kids had college or post-bachelor degrees. Now, it’s more than 30 percent.

So, if we are to believe the MAGAverse's claims that illegal immigration is that which undermines all, then Arizona must be doing better across the board because we lead the way in ridding ourselves of the agents of our destruction.

Yet from income and poverty to crime and student achievement, Arizona still ranks first in being Arizona.

The poor remain

Poverty rates should have fallen dramatically during that period.

No, Arizona poverty increased between 2007 and 2017. It grew from 14.1 percent to 14.9 percent. I’m not going to compare the state’s poverty rate to other states because the Census warns me not to do that. Fine. But I can compare the state to itself. If illegal immigration created more poverty, then the flight of illegal immigrants would — just from the force of high school math — reduce the poverty rates.

That didn’t happen.

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Arizona off-loaded a bunch of undocumented migrants and incomes barely budged compared to the national average.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita personal income in Arizona increased by 3.2 percent between 2007 and 2017. That's enough to rank our state 28th compared to the rest of the country.

There are a whole bunch of ways to look at income but University of Arizona economics professor George W. Hammond uses per capita personal income. He runs the Economic and Business Research Center so figure I'll use that one.

There's a problem using median income to measure the effects of illegal immigration. Take a set of wage earners and change nothing about them other than adding a couple low-wage jobs to the mix. The median income will drop even if salaries don’t change. Evidence abounds that undocumented migrants take gigs in the agriculture sector that otherwise go unfilled. Unless the job is filled, it can just vanish and nudge up a median income through the hokum of funky math.

Arizona led the country in the share of illegal immigrants bolting its borders but 28th during that stretch in income growth.

Who ranked first? North Dakota. North Dakota is among the nation's leaders, along with Massachusetts and Maryland, for per-person increase in illegal immigrants.

I can already here the “yeah but … yeah but … yeah but … the Bakken shale fields have ignited an energy sector boom that left North Dakota virtually recession-proof. It’s not a fair comparison. Economic changes are only tangentially linked to illegal immigration." Well now, that’s something worth considering.

For what it's worth, Massachusetts ranked 12th in per capita personal income growth during that same time.

Police blotter

So let’s turn to the life of crime and see how much safer Arizona became now that these supposed hostiles are leaving.

According to the FBI’s crime numbers, Arizona’s property crime rate did indeed fall markedly during the stretch of time that undocumented migrants were bailing.

Property crime has long been associated with Arizona’s proximity to Mexico and to be sure, motor vehicle theft has fallen off a cliff since 2007. Back then the state experienced a rate of 800 vehicle thefts per 100,000 people. By 2017, the figure tumbled to less than 300 per 100,000. And larcenies were also cut in half during that time.

Yes, Arizona's stolen cars can wind up in Mexico. I know of one story in particular where a guy from Rio Rico found his stolen truck operating in the Nogales police fleet. But it's hardly obvious, and probably unlikely, the thieves are crossing the border out in the Altar Valley, hoofing it through the desert just to drive someone else's Hyundai Sonata back to Hermosillo.

The feds always warn about using crime reporting statistics to compare one state to another, because reporting isn’t uniform from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. So I’m not going to compare Arizona to any other state.

I'm just having trouble figuring out how Arizona’s property crime rates since 2010 seem to perfectly mirror the national trend line if people having crossed the border illegally are the culprits. If we are leading the nation in alleviating ourselves in the principal cause of crime then we shouldn't be tracking exactly national trends in the conduct of crime.

This is why some of us get a reputation for being a pointy-headed elitist. Facts often aren't populist.

Arizona is experiencing violent crime at the same rate it was – more or less – in 2007. The state witnessed about 518 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2007 and 508 incidents per 100,000 in 2017.

That’s not to say it’s unchanged. Violent crime rates took a big fall through the early 2010s but have been climbing steadily since the middle fo the decade. So the FBI’s chart for Arizona looks a lot more like a U than a flat line.

Rape figures have only been on an upward trajectory since George W. Bush’s second term, rising from 37 reported incidents per 100,000 to 51 cases per 100,000.

Murder rates are down during that stretch, from 8.6 to 5.9 per 100,000. On the other hand, since 2015 the state’s murder rate has increased by about than 33 percent.

But y’know … white people.

Back to school

How about education? The state’s kids must be doing better on testing now that we are rid of the lawbreakers and anchor babies from our ranks.

Sorry. Arizona ranked in the bottom third of educational testing in 2007 in fourth and eighth grade reading and math. In 2017, the state ranked in the bottom third in fourth and eighth grade reading and fourth grade math. Arizonans scored at about the national average in eighth grade math that year but the trends over the years show our kids aren’t doing well against the rest of the country.

Guess which states are doing well in those categories? North Dakota and Massachusetts.

Somehow they are able to absorb the invasion, make more money, and still give their kids a good education.

Dead out on the highway

Let’s look finally at highway traffic deaths 'cuz those there illegals can’t drive, right?

Well, the numbers too went largely unchanged from 2007 to 2017. Way back when, the state experienced 1,071 traffic deaths. In 2017, an even 1,000 died on Arizona roads. A decrease, right? Well, those figures are also taking a U-turn.

After falling from a record high above 1,300 in 2006, they sank to below 800 in 2011 and turned upwards since.

It’s important to remember that in 2007, the state passed a Singaporish DUI law.

Massachusetts? Massachusetts drivers are criminally insane so that's a whole 'nother story.

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Arizona made

There's plenty of good things about Arizona and they were good when people were cutting our lettuce without the right paperwork.

Those are the folks though whom are easiest to blame for what's wrong with Arizona. Plenty of factors lead up to the state being low-wage, with crime higher than the national average and school achievement lower than the rest of the country.

A whole bunch of people want to blame a whole bunch of problems on someone, and choose to blame the dispossessed because to do otherwise can be damned inconvenient.

The fact that American wages have not increased during the past 40 years coincides with a stock market that has risen from 800 to 27,000 during that time. The CEOs paid in stock options get rewarded for holding the line on labor costs. It’s harder to confront the boss than it is to scapegoat the immigrant laborer hiding on the other side of town from the government.

Crime rates are the result of any number of societal and individual factors including the unintended consequences of cracking down on crime.

School achievement can be related to investment in education or poverty rates or family breakdown that may be related to welfare. Maybe it's teacher's unions. Maybe it's parents.

Illegal immigrants are leaving the state. Arizona remains just as Arizonans made it.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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Nicole Neri/Cronkite News

The number of illegal immigrants dropped significantly from 2007 to 2017, solving none of our pressing problems.

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