Arizona immigration law: California leads call for boycotts

The new Arizona immigration law spurred California officials to call for boycotts of its eastern neighbor, and the effects to image and industry could be both symbolic and substantial.

Matt York/AP
Tourists walk historic Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona, last week. California legislators have proposed boycotts of the state over its strict new immigration law, which could have an impact on tourism in the Grand Canyon State.

Representatives at three levels of California government were quick to call for economic measures against neighboring Arizona this week in the wake of its passage of a tough new immigration law.

The effects of such sanctions – boycotts in most cases – could be huge, say analysts, but moving them forward could prove more difficult than would first appear.

On Tuesday, seven members of the Los Angles City Council signed a proposal for a boycott that urged the city to "refrain from conducting business" or participating in conventions in Arizona. Also on Tues, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom imposed an immediate moratorium on city employees traveling to Arizona.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

And California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said the state should consider a boycott of Arizona. He sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking which Arizona businesses and government agencies California does business with.

The root of the movement appears to be moral opposition to Arizona's new law. "We have a moral obligation to deliver an unequivocal message to lawmakers in Arizona that California does not condone its conduct," Mr. Steinberg wrote. The law (SB1070) allows police officers to question anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, and makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.

There's a feeling, proponents of the boycotts say, that acting against Arizona will be a wake up call to Arizona citizens and will discourage other states from enacting similar laws.

“This is a draconian enforcement approach that, if expanded [to] other states, would have a crippling effect on the entire national economy,” says Raul Hinjosa-Ojeda, an associate professor of Chicana/Chicano studies at UCLA who researches the economics of immigration. “The general public is going to see the negative effect this has on the business community and will begin asking themselves, ‘Do we really understand what our legislature just did? Is this really worth the cost?' ”

San Francisco’s official travel restrictions will have more symbolic than substantive effects, say analysts. But because of California’s size – it is the world’s seventh largest economy – state level actions could be huge.

“California is Arizona’s big brother from an economic point of view … they are hugely dependent on us,” says Mr. Hinjosa-Ojeda. He says the impact of California’s actions could be similar to 1993, when boycotts over Arizona’s stance on Martin Luther King’s birthday cost Arizona 130 conventions and Super Bowl XXVII, which amounted to $350 million, by one estimate.

California wields a big stick when it threatens Arizona with sanctions such as these, says Hinjosa-Ojeda. “They are trying to do an economic recovery and this will hopefully get them to reconsider this legislation,” he says.

But the logistics of an official boycott are much tougher than just getting the word out, officials say. “You have to go through a roster of suppliers, which takes time and money, and then analyze if another supplier will actually cost you more money or not,” says Jack Kyser, director of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAECD).

He points out that the California Department of General Services, the state's main procurement arm, identified 73 private companies based in Arizona to which it has awarded contracts. Those contracts were worth a combined $10.3 million in the past year, and included computer manufacturers, human resources companies, a fertilizer maker, a publishing house, janitorial suppliers, and others.

“For those who want to do this, it’s going to be very difficult,” he says.

Tourism is more easily affected. Several groups have already canceled conventions, a key source of income to Arizona, says Hinjosa-Ojeda. The cancellations have ripple effects through the local economies, he says, as restaurants, hotels, and rental car companies also lose.

Arizona was already reeling from a decline in tourism because of the recession, and the fallout from the law has taken hotel owners by surprise, according to Debbie Johnson, president of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association.

"Obviously our members are concerned," Ms. Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. "I thought there would be political issues. It has become so tourism-focused and that, to me, is the unfortunate side."

Who might benefit from a boycott of Arizona? California, say economists.

“Actually, a boycott might help California since it really competes with Arizona for conventions, “ says Joel Kotkin, director of the Urban Futures Program at Chapman University.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border


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