A new boycott of meetings and travel to Arizona was announced last week in protest of SB 1070, the state’s recently passed immigration legislation that both proponents and critics agree is the strictest illegal immigration statute in the country. A similar boycott was called by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., days after the bill was signed on April 23 and, according to the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, has led to 23 meeting cancellations so far.
The new boycott was organized by the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy groups, and a coalition of Hispanic, union, and civil rights organizations, including the Asian American Justice Center, the National Action Network, the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The groups argue that the new law would lead to racial profiling, as it requires Arizona’s state and local police to question people about their immigration status based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they might be illegal immigrants.
The campaign centers on a five-point pledge, which includes not holding “conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.” It also asks organizations that take the pledge to encourage other groups not to meet in the state and specifically calls out Major League Baseball, which it believes should not hold the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix as scheduled. Twenty-nine organizations have signed the pledge so far.
Don’t Punish the Meeting Industry
On Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, and other groups calling for an end to the Arizona boycotts. “It is very bad policy to boycott the businesses and harm the workers of Arizona based on the actions of the state legislature,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the U.S. Chamber, in a statement. “The travel and tourism industry is essential to growth and job creation throughout this country. The last thing we should do is punish those who are working hard to create the jobs that our nation’s economy desperately needs.”
One group moving ahead with its plans to meet in Arizona is the American Solar Energy Society. With some apprehension, the group will convene its National Solar Conference May 17–22 at the Phoenix Convention Center. In a statement on its Web site, the organization acknowledges members’ concerns about the new immigration law but says it is not feasible to cancel or relocate the convention on such short notice. The statement explains how leaders weighed their decision: “We feel our mission of getting the U.S. to a sustainable energy future is one that needs to continue. So, faced with very hard choices, we have chosen to continue to fulfill our organization's mission and hold Solar 2010. As we evaluate conference sites in the future, we will continue to assess the venues based on our stated policies of non-discrimination and sustainable environmental practices.”
The association knows of a “handful of people” who are opting not to come to Arizona in support of the national boycott, says Becky Campbell-Howe, director of professional education at the Boulder, Colo.–based ASES. Before the controversy broke, registration numbers for the conference, which typically attracts about 6,000 attendees, was up 29 percent, so officials don’t expect the cancellations to have a major impact on the bottom line.
Destinations, Pro and Con, Take a Stand
In the past week, destinations have continued to react to SB 1070. The city councils of Oakland, Calif.; West Hollywood, Calif.; and Boulder, Colo., have banned official travel to the state, and Boston passed a resolution not to participate in business activities connected to Arizona. The Denver Public Schools have also banned work-related travel to Arizona, and the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education will vote on May 11 whether to issue a warning to students and parents about the risk of traveling to Arizona. These follow earlier actions in other U.S. cities, including Saint Paul, Minn., where Mayor Chris Coleman ordered city departments to no longer travel to conferences in Arizona.
Meanwhile other lawmakers are finding inspiration in Arizona’s tough stance. Michigan State Rep. Kim Meltzer has proposed a law modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070, and Oklahoma state Rep. Randy Terrill has said he’d like to enact a similar law as well.