Ariz. Lawmaker Urging Protest Over Immigration Law

Melissa Block talks to Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona. He talks about why he's asking organizations to protest the new immigration law in his state by not holding their conferences and conventions there.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

One consequence of the new immigration law is a push to boycott Arizona, its businesses, hotels, even the Arizona Diamondbacks. A group of immigration attorneys has already canceled its fall convention in the state. One of the first to call for a boycott was Congressman Raul Grijalva, who represents Arizona's 7th Congressional District. He's here in the studio. Congressman, welcome to the program.

Representative RAUL GRIJALVA (Democrat, Arizona): Thank you very much.

BLOCK: How do you figure a boycott helps things?

Rep. GRIJALVA: Well, the purpose of having economic sanctions and some a targeted boycott by national organizations not using or patronizing the state with their conventions and their conferences, the intent of that was both to send a message, have an economic consequence to the decision to pass and sign this bill, but more importantly to nationalize the issue, to be honest with you.

I think if it's left that it's a provincial problem in this little backward state of Arizona and has no implications at any other level I think would be a huge mistake.

BLOCK: There is a precedent for this in your state, of course. There was a boycott when Arizona resisted the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Rep. GRIJALVA: Yeah, and that precedent was successful, and it is a holiday recognized in the state of Arizona like the rest of the nation. So it was successful in that the effect of the boycott on the state had devastating economic consequences for the state.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about those consequences. The Hotel and Lodging Association in Arizona says don't punish 200,000 tourism employees for politics. A lot of your constituents, for sure, would be affected by this. Arizona has been reeling from the effects of the recession. What do you say to folks who say this is really hard?

Rep. GRIJALVA: Yeah, you know, I a lot of what is going on with cities not wanting to do business or bring their business, organizations not bring their conventions there, that reaction was already going around as the governor was sitting on whether to sign this bill or not.

But more importantly, a call not to bring a couple of conventions to Phoenix or Tucson, Arizona, the effect economically on the state is miniscule compared to what the governor did when she signed that bill.

I really believe that the economic consequence that this law is going to cause with foreign visitors coming to shop, import-export activity, commercial, which is huge in Arizona, that'll be the first area in which you'll see a drop, and that cannot be controlled.

That was going to be a natural reaction based on this law. And so I really think if there is a finger-pointing to be done on this issue of an economic boycott, it begins with the signature of that bill.

And more importantly, if you don't draw attention to this issue and highlight it and not deal with this issue in some way, then you're acquiescing to what is fundamentally unjust about this issue. And so it's very hard for me and I think for a lot of other people just to acquiesce.

BLOCK: So the economic pain, you're saying, is worth it for a broader statement.

Rep. GRIJALVA: The economic pain is not only worth it, it becomes a necessary consequence of having to fight a bad law.

BLOCK: Do you think what you're calling for here and your position on this is running counter to the feelings in your state? At least one poll seems to indicate that two-thirds of Arizonans think this law is a good idea.

Rep. GRIJALVA: What I've asked for and what we're promoting is risky politically. It's risky in electoral times, no question about it, and we made our road to re-election a little more difficult than it was a month ago. But nevertheless, I think those are the consequences I have to deal with. But if it runs counter to majority opinion, that still should not be the rationale by which I say or not say or people come and do business with the state.

BLOCK: Congressman Grijalva, you say this is risky. You do, though, hold the safest Democratic seat in your state. That's not the case for the congresswoman who serves the next district over, Gabby Giffords, and I know she has come out saying this boycott is a bad idea. The risk really is not to you so much as to other Democrats. What do you say to that?

Rep. GRIJALVA: Yeah, and I respect her and want her back in Congress, and I think she will come back. That's not my motivation, to keep quiet in order so that others have an easier shot into office. If that was the case, we would have I would be gagged about 90 percent of the time.

BLOCK: Do you think that Hispanic voters bear some responsibility here? They do tend to vote at rates that are below the rates for the black and white populations in your state.

Rep. GRIJALVA: Yeah. No, absolutely. One of the things that most of my political life has been is to deal with the issue of empowerment, deal with the issue of registering everyone. And those underrepresented groups, one path to equity is to use that ballot box. And so it's been disappointing, but I think this issue has probably galvanized people in a whole different way that wasn't there two weeks ago.

BLOCK: Congressman Grijalva, thanks for coming by.

Rep. GRIJALVA: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Congressman Raul Grijalva. He represents the 7th Congressional District in Arizona, and he's calling for an economic boycott of his state.

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