Every Friday in Prescott, Arizona, retiree Dennis Duvall stands in the town center holding an 8-foot-long red banner that proclaims “Immigrants and Refugees Are Welcome.” “Immigration has been a big issue here in Arizona,” Duvall explains. “Because of our border here with Mexico, it has been virtually divisive. Arizona is a pretty conservative state. So a couple of us got together and ordered this banner and have just been trying to make it as visible in our town as possible.”
There would be less animosity toward refugees and immigrants if people would realize the Constitution works for these people, too.
A committed pacifist, Duvall has lent his energy to promoting social justice, first as a young man and still today, in his retirement. Originally from Missoula, Montana, Duvall worked as a tour bus driver in the Grand Canyon for nearly three decades, shuttling visitors up and down one of the great wonders of the world. Now he does advocacy on issues like the environment and immigration.
“Prescott’s motto is ‘Everybody’s Home Town,’ ” Duvall says. “We use this banner to publicize the fact that even though there are refugees and immigrants in our state that aren’t legal citizens, they still have legal rights.” He says many people in his community don’t understand this. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that immigrants have legal rights under the Constitution, and due process, and equal protection of the law,” Duvall says. “I think there would be less animosity toward refugees and immigrants if people would realize the Constitution works for these people, too. The Constitution works for everybody.”
Duvall said there used to be more immigrants in Prescott but that an uptick in deportations in the state scared many of them away. When Arizona enacted legislation targeting unauthorized immigrants, evidence suggests the state’s economy suffered, as well. Research by the Cato Institute found that after strict employment verification requirements were adopted in 2007, the total number of construction and agricultural jobs in the state dropped, including those available for U.S.-born workers. Furthermore, as immigrants fled the state, particularly following a 2010 law that stepped up police enforcement, housing prices in municipalities that enforced the laws decreased significantly more than they did in other cities around the country.
Fewer immigrants also means fewer tax dollars in state and local coffers. A 2016 report from the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that Arizona’s undocumented immigrants alone pay $214 million a year in state and local taxes. In Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District, which hugs the state’s western border and includes Prescott, immigrants — authorized and unauthorized combined — comprise 8.7 percent of the population and pay $305 million a year in combined federal, state, and local taxes. Immigrants in the district are far more likely to be of working age than are U.S.-born residents: 67.2 percent are between the ages of 25 and 64 compared with 46.4 percent of the U.S.-born residents. And they are nearly four times more likely to have less than a high school education, meaning they often fill low-skill jobs that U.S.-born workers don’t want. In agriculture, for example, immigrants in the district make up 35 percent of the workforce.
“The whole immigration system needs to be totally reformed, from the bottom up,” Duvall says. “There has to be a pathway to citizenship for the people that are living and working here now and are part of our community. Those are the two main things: a pathway to citizenship and stopping the deportations.”