First, Major League Baseball debated canceling its All-Star game that is scheduled to take place in Arizona next year. Then musicians, from Rage Against the Machine to Kanye West to Sonic Youth, said they would have nothing to do with the state. Entire city governments — Boston, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Calif., and Seattle, to name a few — have also voted to boycott the state of Arizona.
Although Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070, doesn’t take effect until the end of July, both supporters and opponents are aware of the image crisis the state is experiencing in the wake of the passage of the most wide-reaching anti-undocumented immigrant law in the United States to date. The boycotts of the rich and powerful have gotten the headlines, but, according to one Latino researcher in Arizona, it’s the everyday people — Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike — who have had and will continue to have the greatest impact on the state.
“This latest bill, in some ways the worst of the worst, didn’t just come out of nowhere. It’s part of a whole series of bills,” says James Garcia, a board member of the Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, a non-profit organization uniting professionals to help form public policy relating to Latinos in Arizona, and a spokesman for the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He notes that the state of Arizona has been passing a host of bills targeting undocumented immigrants in recent years, including a ban on bilingual education in schools, cutting off access to public services for unauthorized immigrants, and strict employer sanction laws for those that knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Still, Garcia says, few predicted the intense reaction to the bill's passage. “The degree of reaction — locally, nationally and internationally — no one could predict, whether they supported or opposed the bill,” he says.
Such anti-undocumented immigrant laws, coupled with the fact that the economic recession has hit the state particularly hard, have caused an estimated 100,000 undocumented aliens to leave Arizona in the last few years, according to data the Department of Homeland Security [PDF].
“They just don’t feel welcome here. They feel like they’re targeted here,” Garcia says. “They feel like it’s a state that doesn’t appreciate their contributions to the economy here, and now, of course, it’s gotten to the point where a lot of undocumented immigrants are afraid to walk down the street to Safeway for fear a sheriff’s deputy will pull them over and start asking questions and one thing leads to another and they’re deported.”
With the exodus of at least 100,000 people from the state, in addition to any children or spouses they may have had, the state's economy may have lost out on attempts to raise revenue through retail purchases and sales tax, Garcia says. “These are people no longer going to Food City or Best Buy to buy TVs. Everything they were spending money on is no longer a part of our economy anymore,” he says, adding that mom and pop stores have had and will continue to suffer the most with the loss.
But the industry that is most affected by the boycotts threatened on Arizona is the tourism sector, Garcia says. Several conventions and meetings have been canceled in the wake of SB 1070’s passage. The National Minority Suppliers Development Council Inc. moved its fall conference, with an estimated 7,000 attendees, from Phoenix to Florida. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the oldest African American Greek-lettered fraternity, canceled a 5,000-attendee meeting in July that was scheduled to take place in Arizona. The meeting will now be held in Las Vegas.
Garcia notes that every time a conference or convention is canceled, hotel reservations are canceled, meaning the hotels need fewer staff members. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the City of Phoenix the “kidnapping capital of the United States,” and Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), the author of Senate Bill 1070, recently listed on his website criminal activity related to undocumented immigrants. Garcia fears such remarks will scare away potential tourists to the state. (In fact, crime statistics in Arizona have dropped dramatically in the last few years.)
For its part, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, the trade association associated with many lodging businesses in the state, has not taken a stance on the law. Instead, the association says the law is a political issue, not a tourism one, according to a spokeswoman for the organization who referred questions to an online statement [PDF]. The association does admit in the statement that the industry is “deeply concerned” with the law and its repercussions, and notes it was not a part of crafting the legislation.
"[B]ut unfortunately (the tourism industry) is certain to experience the unintended consequences of the economic backlash. As we've seen many times in recent years, tourism is being used as leverage for a political issue with no direction to our industry," the statement says.
Brewer has taken the concerns to heart and, according to The Arizona Republic, has created a task force to rebrand the state as a destination spot.
Not all organizations are taking a boycotting posture. Hispanic and non-Hispanic community and business leaders in Arizona are developing a soon-to-be-released public campaign that will focus on changing the economic direction the state is moving in and highlighting the positives Arizona has to offer, Garcia says.
Such a strategy might be smart, considering the fact that nearly 60 percent of the American public supports SB 1070, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. Others think it's unfair to target Arizona's people for laws perpetuated by a few outspoken lawmakers while federal movement on immigration reform comes at a glacial pace.
For now, Arizona might be in the middle of trying to do public image damage control, but it is the decisions of the average consumer — in addition to the high-profile boycotts — that will make the determination of whether passing a law like SB 1070 will come at a real cost to the state.