July 27, 2010 — -- Francisco has been in Phoenix, Arizona without papers for 14 years, but he says he's now afraid to walk the streets.
"I got my family, my kids born here," Francisco said tearfully. "And now I have come back to Mexico."
Francisco and his family are joining a growing exodus of illegal immigrants. They say they are driven by fear. They leave behind vacant apartments, empty shops and desks at school.
Some immigrants, like Francisco, are choosing to leave Arizona before its controversial immigration law goes into effect on Thursday. The law requires police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the U.S. illegally.
Latino activists are encouraging their community to check their tail lights, not to travel in large groups and even to remove the Catholic rosaries from their rear-view mirrors.
Erika, a 23-year-old undocumented student, came to Mesa, Arizona in 1998 at the age of 11. She says her family was escaping from her abusive father. Erika dreams of being a counselor one day but is bracing to be separated from her family.
"I've been looking forward to being able to do what I studied for, what I worked so hard for and show this country that immigrants can also be good people," she said. "We're not here to take over."
Immigrants in Maricopa County, Arizona have already had a taste of what might happen elsewhere when the law goes into effect. The county, which includes Phoenix, stages frequent raids. Just today, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio allowed a raid at an office building. One illegal immigrant was arrested.
On Thursday, the rest of Arizona's police will have the power to do the same. Across the state, officers are bracing for more arrests and brushing up on the new fine line between enforcement and profiling.
An instructional video on the law's enforcement is mandatory viewing for Arizona's police officers. The video warns several times to not use someone's race as probable cause to stop him or her.
Arizona: Immigration Law Takes Effect Thursday
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and other proponents of the law argue that it's needed, that there is a link between crime and illegal immigration, but the numbers raise conflicting questions.
A decade ago, 1.6 million illegal immigrants were captured on the Mexican border. Last year, that number was 540,865, down 65 percent.
While arrests on the border are down, the number of undocumented criminals removed from the United States is on the rise. Last year, 387,790 people living in the U.S. illegally were removed from the country by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of those removed, thirty percent were criminals, convicted of everything from misdemeanors to murder. This year, nearly fifty percent of those removed so far have been criminals.
Still, Latino activists argue that Arizona's law will promote racial profiling and turn immigrants into targets.
Law student Daniel Rodriguez, illegal since his mother brought him to the United States at age six, told ABC News that he knows many parents who are giving power of attorney to neighbors and friends.
"The kids are placed in protective services and may not see their parents again for a long time," Rodriguez said.
When asked about those who tell Rodriguez that he's breaking the law by living in the United States, he replies: "I would say the law does not make sense. I did not make an immoral decision to come here at six years old and I think it's immoral to try to make me leave."