Ben Bethel owns the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, where guests have canceled their reservations to protest the state's new controversial immigration law.
Ben Bethel owns the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, where guests have canceled their reservations to protest the state's new controversial immigration law. Peter O'Dowd/NPR
Arizona's tough new immigration law has led more than a dozen U.S. cities, organizations and foreign governments to warn against traveling there. Many hotels say guests have canceled reservations. In a state that depends on tourism and conventions, business owners who had been looking for signs of an economic thaw are concerned.
On a recent lunch hour at the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, owner Ben Bethel talked about the latest punch to the gut. Customers canceled 80 room reservations in just one day last week, Bethel says. That translates to about $8,000 — a big deal for a small boutique hotel, particularly one trying to emerge from a recession.
"We were so hopeful that things were recovering," he says, "but this is a situation where it's actually going to be very difficult to recover from this."
Bethel is caught in the aftermath of Arizona's new immigration law, which gives police broad powers to ask people about their citizenship status. The bill has outraged the Latino community — and in revenge, people like former state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez are asking tourists to send their dollars elsewhere.
"The question will inevitably be, aren't you hurting yourself?" Gutierrez says. "The answer to that question is, yes, we are!"
Gutierrez says he wants to bring all sectors of Arizona's economy to a shocking halt, including its $7 billion hotel industry.
"We understand that our people are inordinately the dishwashers and the busboys for the hospitality industry," he says. "But we also understand they are the mothers and fathers of children in this state. It is they themselves who are asking for this boycott."
Arizona's economy is already at a breaking point. Its unemployment rate is near 10 percent; the housing sector is gasping for life.
Now cities like San Francisco and St. Paul have banned public employees from traveling to Arizona on business. Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland have considered banning future contracts with Arizona businesses.
"We don't want to hurt Arizona, but we don't want this kind of law to continue," says Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner, who co-sponsored a bill to boycott Arizona-based companies.
Opponents are also targeting Phoenix's bid for the next Republican National Convention and Major League Baseball's 2011 All-Star Game. The World Boxing Council will no longer send Mexican fighters to Arizona.
Gov. Jan Brewer, whose signature on the bill started this frenzy, says she doesn't understand why people would use boycotts to inflict any more damage.
"Why would they want to hurt the legal citizens?" Brewer says. "You and I, and everybody else in this state. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever to me."
Brewer counters that the legislation is aimed at making Arizona safer, and better for businesses.
Many experts are reluctant to speculate whether the sanctions will actually work. But economist Elliot Pollack is not one of them. He says Arizona is no stranger to controversy — or to boycotts.
"And you know what the long-term impact of those things were? Zero!" Pollack says.
In the 1990s, Arizona lost the Super Bowl because of the state's refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Day. Even then, Pollack says, the pain was temporary. But this time might be different.
"It's absolutely certain for us that we've never seen anything like this before," says Will Conroy, president of Tucson's historic Arizona Inn.
Conroy selected one of a stack of e-mails from customers who have canceled their reservations.
" 'We will not be visiting the Arizona Inn anytime soon because of the anti-immigration climate in Arizona,' " Conroy says, reading the note aloud. " 'The small role I can play is not to add my presence as if everything in Arizona is fine. I shall miss visiting the Sonoran Desert and the Arizona Inn.' "
"That one got me," Conroy says.
But the immigration legislation cuts both ways. A recent Gallup Poll shows most Americans are in favor of it. And ever since the governor signed the bill, supporters from other states have written to local news agencies to say they're considering a move to Arizona.