Immigrant Grassroots Organizations Say Arizona Boycott is Not Over
PHOENIX, Arizona – The decision by the Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza to call off a year-long boycott of Arizona for its passage of one of the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant pieces of legislation is being met with opposition by grassroots organizations determined to keep up the pressure.
“This is a decision they took without consulting all the people affected,” said Salvador Reza, organizer of PUENTE, a pro-immigrant rights movement. “SB 1070 still affects us and it is disrespectful not to consult with the community.”
SB 1070, passed by state lawmakers last year and approved by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, sought to criminalize undocumented immigrants by making it a crime to remain in the state without proper papers. A federal judge blocked that and other key provisions of the bill, however, in response to a legal challenge from the Obama administration.
Activists like Reza argue that despite the injunction, local-police are still enforcing aspects of the law and that the overall effect has been to create a hostile climate towards undocumented immigrants in the state.
Some SB 1070 Opponents Urged Decision
For its part, the decision by the Washington D.C.-based NCLR to end support for the boycott was not made in isolation. The call came in the form of two letters – one from Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a strong opponent of the boycott, and Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva, one of its original proponents. The other was sent by the non-partisan Real Arizona Coalition (RAC), whose members include business and religious leaders, and nonproﬁts that serve the Latino community.
“We respectfully request that the boycott be ended and that you join us as we lead the way toward a national consensus on how to ﬁx our broken federal immigration system. These actions will send a powerful message that constructive dialogue, not continuing conﬂict, offers the best way forward for all of us,” read the letter sent by RAC late last month. The group played a crucial role last year in pressuring Republicans to oppose another raft of anti-immigrant laws then being pushed by State
Senate President Russell Pearce.
“This decision by NCLR to lift its boycott reﬂects the success that business and community leaders nationwide are having against laws such as SB 1070,” said Gonzalo de la Melena, president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, one of the signatories to the RAC letter, in a statement.
“While a number of states have considered tough measures aimed at immigrants in the past year, only a handful have passed such bills, and to date those laws have been barred from implementation by the federal courts.”
Steve Moore is president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, representing an industry that has been deeply affected by the boycott. In a prepared statement explaining his reasons for signing the letter, Moore said, “The lifting of the boycott is clearly a step in the right direction. It acknowledges that illegal immigration is not just an Arizona issue but a national one, and it makes it easier for the community to get back to the business of booking conventions.”
Boycott Supporters See Impact
Such sentiments have found little sympathy, however, with groups like PUENTE, which is not alone in its opposition to ending the boycott.
Luis Avila is president of Somos America, a coalition of 27 civil and human rights groups that voted last week to continue their support for the boycott.
“If there are national organizations that want out or want to stop the boycott, they are not seeing the impact that anti-immigrant laws are having on family separation, the death of thousands of people on the border and the harassment of individuals based on the color of their skin,” said Avila. “They can say whatever they want, but at a state level we still see the consequences of the anti-immigrant climate.”
Some out of state groups also plan to continue with the boycott, including SoundStrike, a coalition of over 200 artists and musicians that adopted a self-imposed ban on performing for proﬁt in the state. “It doesn’t change anything for us. We don’t follow NCLR’s lead. It’s ridiculous for them to insinuate that the boycott is over, “ said SoundStrike spokesperson Javier Gonzalez.
Still, while disagreements remain over the continuation of the boycott, all agree that it has been effective.
“It’s galvanized these group of people to push the state in a direction we need to go, which is focusing on getting Congress to enact real immigration reform,” said Lisa Urias, a spokesperson for RAC.
Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform (AZEIR), a coalition of 250 businesses across the state and an early opponent of the boycott, was among those in support of NCLR’s decision. Todd Landfried, a spokesperson for the group, said the boycott stymies the potential for dialogue among different groups that could push for federal reform.
During the past year, AZEIR joined a coalition of religious leaders and community members in hosting conferences aimed at informing state residents on the facts behind immigration.
“We felt that in light of the progress we have been making, that it made sense to agree with other signatories of the letter in asking [NCLR] to end the boycott,” he said. “They could have said no.”
Efforts to contact NCLR for comment on its decision were unsuccessful. In a response to RAC’s letter, the group wrote that it is “aware of the hardship [the boycott] has imposed on many of the workers, businesses and organizations whose interests we seek to advance.”
SB 1070’s Economic Toll
Landfried of AZEIR also acknowledged growing public unease with SB 1070, which he said had not resulted in the positive effects hoped for and promised by the law’s supporters.
A study released in March by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank based in Washington, D.C., contrasts the economic effects of massive deportation with the cost of legalizing Arizona’s estimated half-million undocumented immigrants.
An enforcement-only approach could lead to a loss of 17.2 percent of total employment in the state and shrink the state's economy by $48.8 billion, according to the report. Legalizing undocumented immigrants in the state, meanwhile, could increase employment by close to 8 percent and increase state tax revenues by $1.68 billion.
Another independent study by CAP showed that the boycott took a toll on the state’s economy.
According to the report, Arizona lost upwards of $140 million in potential revenue from conventions the state would otherwise have hosted. The same study also projected the overall impact of the bill could amount to as high as $750 million in lost revenue, while the state’s image abroad has already taken a serious hit.
“If we keep up the ﬁnancial pressure forever it can backﬁre,” said Luz Sarmina- Gutiérrez, president and CEO of Valle del Sol, which provides community services to Arizona’s Latino residents. “I feel like we’re already successful. There’s no point in continuing it,” she added.
Reza with PUENTE argues that strategically this is the worst time to stop the pressure. SB 1070’s sponsor, Republican Senator Pearce, faces a special recall election this November. If he looses, the recall could alter the tone of the immigration debate in the sate legislature.
Still, Reza argues, with or without Pearce the focus should be on getting the law completely repealed.
“They are letting corporations control them,” said Reza of the decision by NCLR and RAC.
RAC’s Urias defended the group’s stance.
“Latinos have to stop ﬁghting with each other, we have bigger ﬁghts to ﬁght than this. Latinos have been instrumental in this coalition,” she said. “We’re all instrumentally involved and our voice has been heard.”