Since Gov. Jane Brewer signed Arizona SB-1070 into law on April 23, thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets and public plazas across the country to protest the legislation—and for good reason. The country’s strictest anti-immigration measure threatens the constitutional rights of Latinos living or passing through the state by creating an environment conducive to racial profiling and undermining sole federal jurisdiction over immigration policy. But while civil rights and Latino advocacy groups begin to challenge the law’s legality, the economic effects may not be as slow or forgiving.
Despite the fact that the immigration law does not officially go into effect until 90 days after the state’s legislative session adjourns, likely sometime in August, many opponents are calling for a boycott of Arizona. In fact, the state—which is a popular location for conventions, tourism, and major sporting events—may already be seeing what is clearly a backlash towards the newly-enacted law. According to the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, 19 meetings have already been canceled as a result of the immigration law, amounting to 15,000 canceled rooms. The state tourism office estimates that conventions and tourist spending accounted for $1.8 billion of revenue in 2008.
Brewer, however, disagrees. “I believe it’s not going to have the kind of economic impact that some people think that it might,” the Republican governor recently said. If history is indicative of things to come, Brewer’s comments may not be very accurate. According to the Washington Post, when Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day twenty years ago, a tourism boycott caused the Phoenix area alone to lose approximately $190 million as a result of canceled conventions. The current boycott could have even bigger consequences for the entire state, where Hispanics make up roughly 30% of the population.
A study conducted by University of Arizona immigration policy expert, Judith Gans, showed that undocumented immigrants had a positive net fiscal impact of $940 million in 2004, even after she accounted for $1.4 billion of costs, which include education, health care, and law enforcement. The new law will certainly cause some immigrants to leave Arizona due to a fear of being detained and deported. Others will leave as a result of the law’s crackdown on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, thus making it difficult for them to find employment. A separate study conducted by the Perryman Group reveals that if the estimated 460,000 immigrants who reside in Arizona illegally were to leave, the state would see a loss of more than $26 billion in economic activity.
The public debate surrounding the law and its potential economic impact have even stretched into the sporting arena, particularly America’s favorite pastime—baseball. On Friday, the Major League Baseball players’ union condemned the Arizona law. The league itself is made up largely of Latin American players who grew up in poverty and do not speak English. “These international players are very much a part of our national pastime,” said Michael Weiner, head of the MLB union. “Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status.” Others, including Rep. Jose Serrano, D-NY, are demanding that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig move the 2011 All-Star Game, which is currently scheduled to be played in Phoenix. The Arizona law is clearly inconsistent with the identity of the league, and the opportunities that the game has provided to many of the players who, if not for their athletic talent, would not normally have the opportunity to reside legally in the U.S. Similarly, the sanctioning body of the World Boxing Council unanimously decided to stop authorizing Mexican boxers to fight in Arizona—a state that has in the past hosted such prominent Hispanic boxers like Julio Cesar Chavez and Salvador Sanchez.
On Friday, Gov. Brewer signed an amendment to the immigration law, which now allows police officers to ask about an immigrant’s legal status only while investigating the violation of a law or ordinance. Still, the economic effects that the policy will have on the state may not be easily reversible short of repealing the law altogether. So can Arizona repair the image it has created? “I’m not sure they can,” said Larry Chavis, an economist and associate professor at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School. “It’s hard to imagine how they can do effective PR given that so many people disagree with the policy and the perceived wrong is so clear.”
Larry Banda is a second-year law student at Loyola University in Chicago. He serves as NLLSA’s Central Regional Director.