In Protest Of Immigration Law, Arizona Congressman Leads Boycott

Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva called for a boycott of his own state in response to Arizona passing what’s widely considered the nation's toughest law against illegal immigration. He speaks with host Michel Martin about his reasons for supporting a boycott, the backlash, and the potential economic impact on the state.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we move on to another very different conversation about the various reasons people come to the United States and how this country is responding to it. Specifically we have more about that tough new law passed in Arizona. It's considered the toughest in the country on illegal immigration. If it goes into effect as anticipated in 90 days, it's designed to ramp up local police pressure on illegal immigrants by requiring officials to check the status of those whom they suspect may be in the country without authorization.

While popular in Arizona, the law has sparked a fierce backlash from many national leaders, civil rights leaders especially, who fear it will lead to widespread racial profiling. In response to the new law, Representative�Raul Grijalva has done something equally controversial. He's called for an economic boycott of his own state. And he's with us now to talk more about it. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Representative RAUL GRIJALVA (Democrat, Arizona): Thank you very much. Yeah, it's - I think the concern at a national level for the precedent that this law in Arizona sets, a precedent that opens a box of really dangerous and I think fundamentally anti-civil rights legislation across the country. It's very dangerous. You see also a lot of discussion now in Congress about states' rights and how you empower states to have more and more rights over basic legislation. All those things are harbingers, I believe, of things that we need to be very, very careful about.

MARTIN: You've been asked a lot about this in the last couple of days, obviously, as more attention has focused on this, but the latest polling shows that this bill is popular nationally, that some 51 percent of Americans nationally, according to a CBS/New York Times poll, support the law and a significant majority of Arizonans, some 71 percent according to a Gallup survey, support the law. Why do you think that is?

Rep. GRIJALVA: One can talk about the frustration with the inability to come to grips with how we conduct immigration reform, the issue of security on the border and then there's an underlying issue that we have to be very honest about, where people feel like their sense of America is not what they see around them.

And the influx of immigrants, legal or otherwise, coming in from Latin America has changed the tone both in language and in culture and I think that's underlying it as well about this is not the America that I know, or I knew or I grew up in. And I think that's part of the backlash as well. You know, when we ask for economic sanctions and asked the conventions and the conferences not to go to Arizona until this law was overturned and to bring national attention to this, we received significant backlash ourselves about how dare you hurt the economy of the state.

MARTIN: Well, what about that, particularly given, not to say that you - that Latinos are your only concern, because they are not, because you represent your district, which is the 7th Congressional District, but people have pointed out that the state is 30 percent Hispanic and a lot of the people who would be affected who work in the tourism and hospitality industries, who would be negatively affected are Latino. And they would argue that that's counterproductive, what would you say to that?

Rep. GRIJALVA: The answer that I give is that when Governor Brewer signed the bill, she plummeted the state economy into a hole that one convention not going to Phoenix or Tucson is miniscule compared to what she did. You have the states of Sonora and other states in Mexico saying, I don't think we want to do business. We had the governor cancel an appearance, of Sonora. The Arizona Border Commission, which is critical to how we function bilaterally between the states, cancelled his visit there.

You've had conventions cancel. You've had advisories in Latin America saying, you know, go somewhere else. Go to California. Go to New Mexico. Go to Texas for your retail shopping, which is billions of dollars to the state of Arizona.

MARTIN: Okay, but so, but...

Rep. GRIJALVA: But that reaction would've happened regardless.

MARTIN: It would've happened anyway. But the mayor of Phoenix, for example, Phil Gordon, who was a guest on the program yesterday, he agrees with you wholeheartedly on the law. He feels that it is counterproductive. He feels that it would open the door to profiling, all of the civil rights issues that you've identified. But he says that a boycott just makes matters worse. He just - so I would just ask you to address that specific question.

Rep. GRIJALVA: Yeah, no. And a boycott and those economic sanctions and conventions and conferences not going to Arizona, and we're asking them not to go, was very specific. We didn't tell people that they shouldn't shop, that they should stop eating at restaurants. We wanted to draw national attention to the issue. And the response is this. You know, I think acquiescing, not bringing attention to it, not reacting in a very strong way to the law kind of leaves you in a position where you're either - it's a nodding approval or there's no consequences to the law. And I really felt it had to be consequences.

MARTIN: So you think it's worth it to draw attention to these...

Rep. GRIJALVA: I think it is absolutely worth it. And the downside is, yes, some - that we potentially are hurting some people that we shouldn't hurt with these sanctions. But at the same time, if we don't take this issue on, on a very direct and high level, then it becomes this little problem in Arizona. And I don't think it's a little problem in Arizona. I think it's a national issue and we're trying to nationalize it as much as possible.

MARTIN: You're a cosponsor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009. You obviously are among those who feel that a national and comprehensive solution is the only solution. So, could you just give us some broad outlines of what you think that would look like or should look like?

Rep. GRIJALVA: As simply as I can for myself, I explain it this way. A three-legged stool: number one, security. We can't ignore that issue and so border security has to be robust. There has to be a sense that the border is a place that allows flow of people and commerce, but it's done lawfully and that there's a level of security.

The other issue is a path to legalization for those law-abiding, hardworking, taxpaying people that are in this country and will meet the criteria to get in the back of the line to adjust their status. And the other one is, is the flow of guest workers into the country. And a whole redoing of our immigration policy per se, how we issue visas, how many we issue, the regulatory controls around us. So it's a three-legged issue.

Right now we've been only talking I think because of - it's politically expedient just to talk about enforcement. And that's not only expedience, it's a political reaction to what's going on. And we don't talk about the other part of it. And we've never been able to get to that other part because you get into these soundbite wars where, you know, I'm for full scale amnesty, I'm for open borders, which I'm not. But we can't get past that point.

MARTIN: And finally, in the minute or so that we have left, do you think that as stressful as this period has been with the signing of this bill, which has caused so much, you know, hurt and anxiety among many people, do you think that this has elevated the issue in some way that's been a positive effect? And if you could, you know, is how you think that's all going to work now that there's also this whole Times Square situation, yet another incident where people say, once again, people who are in this country under our lax system - our porous border as it were, are bringing harm to the country or would like to. How do you think that all fits together?

Rep. GRIJALVA: It does fit together because one of the things that immigration reform can do is to know who's here, why they're here, and if they are obeying and following the law. Those that are not here and those that do not have the permission to be here will need to be removed, period. But it's created urgency, in answer to your question, and rightfully so. That it's placed immigration at the forefront of having to talk about it.

You know, one of the things about immigration reform, particularly in midterm election time is that my colleagues either want to run away from it or they want to exploit it, either or. There's no in between. But I think this urgency that it's brought a lot of diverse groups together to say, but we have to deal with this. It's been a unifying force among the Latino community because they see this as a direct attack on them.

So the upside is urgency. The upside is, we can't let this law replicate itself around the country. I think that has added new vigor and it's added new urgency to the question.

MARTIN: Congressman Raul Grijalva represents the 7th Congressional District in Arizona. He's a Democrat and he was kind enough to stop by our Washington, D.C. studios. Congressman, we thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rep. GRIJALVA: Thank you.

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