Phoenix Mayor Weighs In On State's Immigration Law

Michele Norris talks to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon about the effect Arizona's immigration law will have on Phoenix's tourism industry. Gordon has said the law could cost the city $90 million in lost hotel and convention business over a period of five years.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's been just about one month since Arizona's governor signed a tough new immigration law. When it goes into effect in July, it will allow state and local police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

From the day the law was passed, it's been staunchly opposed by the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona's most populous city. Mayor Phil Gordon says the law presents big problems for his city because of the potential loss of tourists and convention business, and he says it has created confusion for police departments throughout the state.

The law has broad backing in Arizona, so I asked Mayor Gordon whether he should support the public will even if he disagrees with it.

Mayor PHIL GORDON (Democrat, Phoenix, Arizona): If we went on the majority will, we'd still have segregation and we'd still have laws that subsequently both the courts and society have determined was not only illegal but immoral. And I feel that this really is one.

Number one, you know, the immigration concept is a concept that is a federal exclusive area and not a state. We don't want multiple states having different immigration policies.

And number two, this law unfortunately, I believe, will lead to racial profiling and picking out people because of their race, just by the nature of the law that really doesn't purport to give guidelines and certainly won't make us any safer. All it does is take police officers off the street going after violent criminals and now is going to require a lot of time and a lot of money to go after individuals that are working in hotels or picking the food that we eat in our daily meals.

NORRIS: Let's move to the economic impact, since that's one of your big concerns. Are you already seeing the effects of the threatened boycott? What's at stake for your city, in particular, and for the state as a whole?

Mayor GORDON: Well, Arizona and Phoenix, a lot of its economy is based on tourism. So people that aren't traveling here, conventions that don't occur, aren't spending money, aren't booking airplane flights, aren't buying clothes at the shopping centers. That's a lot of lost revenue to the government.

In addition, the businesses are starting to see the impact. We've lost a couple of conventions we know of. We have lost an estimated 10 to 20,000 hotel room nights already. We are unable to negotiate now with most of those companies that we were negotiating with for the future. So it's hard to tell who isn't going to be coming now, and they can avoid controversy and come - and go to other cities across the nation.

NORRIS: Mayor, I'm sure you've heard this concern that some say that in talking about this boycott and the potential loss of income, that in some way you are underscoring or perhaps adding to that sentiment. That by pointing this out, that it's almost an invitation for people to participate in these kinds of boycotts.

What do you think about that line of reasoning?

Mayor GORDON: Well, I understand the concern. But the fact of the matter is that we in Arizona and Phoenix don't control this debate. It's tied to the national debate on immigration reform and border security.

What I've done is voiced my opposition to boycotts. I've called my colleagues throughout other cities, asking them not to boycott. I've called companies to please come, reminding everybody the law doesn't go into effect for another 70 days. And by then, wiser heads will prevail and not to punish everybody in Arizona for a few individuals that I believe used a wedge issue to divide the state and the city.

NORRIS: You've threatened to sue over this law. But, as I understand, the city attorney questioned whether or not you have the authority to file suit. What are your legal options?

Mayor GORDON: Well, the legal issues are very complicated. Both - which courts lawsuits can be filed in, who has standing, whether the issue is ripe yet since the law doesn't go into effect. That's being sorted out by a lot of different attorneys, the council. The majority of the council does not want to sue. As a result, I was looking and still am looking at action where as an individual or as a mayor I would proceed.

There have been a number of lawsuits filed already.

NORRIS: May I just - I'm sorry. May I just interrupt you for a minute?

Mayor GORDON: Sure.

NORRIS: Did you say that you would be willing to sue as an individual, not just as the mayor of the city?

Mayor GORDON: Correct. On civil rights issues, everybody - when the issue is ripe - has standing to sue on a law that isn't legal. I'm confident that the Justice Department will intervene at some point.

At this point in time, it's becoming overwhelming in terms of the boycotting and just trying to stop that has become a full-time job.

NORRIS: Mayor Gordon, thank you very much for your time.

Mayor GORDON: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: That was Phil Gordon. He's the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona.

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