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Illegals Begin Leaving Arizona as New Law Approaches

For the first time, Mexican officials in Arizona admit there is hard evidence illegal immigrants are preparing to leave the state because a new employer sanctions law is making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to keep a job.

Illegal immigrants are flooding the Mexican consulate in Phoenix for documents that will allow them to return to Mexico to enroll their children in school, the consul to Arizona, Carlos Flores Vizcarra, told FOX News. They are also requesting a document called "menaje de casa," which allows illegal immigrant families living in the U.S. to cross into Mexico without paying a tax on their furniture and personal belongings.

Vizcarra said 94 families asked the embassy for students transfer documents last month, compared to only three last year. He said several thousand immigrants asked for the tax document.

In a separate interview, Edmundo Hidalgo of the non-profit immigrant support group Chicanos Por La Causa, said 30,000 illegal immigrants said in a survey last week that they planned to leave Arizona sometime before March 1, when the state’s tough new employer sanctions law goes into effect. Under the law, employers can lose their business licenses if they hire undocumented workers.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has set up a hotline for citizens to report on employers who hire illegals. He has said enforcement will begin when the law goes into effect. Many deputies have also been given arrest authority by Customs and Border Protection to enforce federal immigration law. So in the course of a traffic stop, illegal immigrants without a driver's license could ultimately face deportation.

These factors, combined with a slowing economy, are forcing many undocumented workers to consider leaving Arizona. According to a study last year, 12 percent of Arizona’s workforce is in the U.S. illegally, the highest percentage in the nation.

At a immigrant shelter in Agua Prieta, Mexico, just south of the Arizona border, officials say illegal immigrants are leaving the Grand Canyon state because of the employer sanctions law.

In the last month, for every five immigrants trying to enter the U.S., four were crossing back in the other direction, said Rosa Soto Moreno, who runs a Catholic shelter that provides food and lodging for illegal immigrants.

Soto said illegal immigrants crossing back into Mexico is a new phenomenon, and she attributes it to the new law.

"Many of the supervisors are upset by the law, but have told their workers they have no choice," she said.