The current controversy brewing over a restrictive new immigration law in Arizona should resonate in baking. Largely mirroring other industries, U.S. baking was built by immigrants.

From early companies such as Entenmann’s and Schwebel’s to 20th century businesses like H&S Bakery and Turano to the growth in the United States of companies like Mission and Bimbo, baking always has drawn strength, energy and, perhaps most importantly, innovation from leaders who came from beyond our borders. Similarly, as a labor-intensive industry, baking has benefited from this country’s policy of welcoming immigrants, helping assure the labor pool needed to economically produce and distribute baked foods. Additionally, a mature industry such as baking benefits from the marketplace expansion provided by immigrants who become important consumers immediately upon stepping foot in America.

Perhaps because of these benefits and because the industry is grappling with so many other issues, it is understandable that baking has not made immigration policy reform a principal priority. But the new Arizona law, aimed at catching, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants should be a wake-up call. The nation’s tradition of welcoming immigrants has been balanced against history of unease, even fear and anti-immigrant sentiment. Maintaining the proper balance between the legacy of welcoming immigrants without radically changing the fabric of American society never has been easy.

The law passed in Arizona, a state at the front lines of the battle against illegal immigration, suggests that public anger over the status quo is reaching a boiling point. Because the topic is so divisive across party lines, politicians have resisted and continue to avoid grappling with these issues. U.S. industry, including baking, must encourage real leadership and measured action.