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Cities, Businesses Boycott Arizona Over New Law

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Cities, Businesses Boycott Arizona Over New Law

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Cities, Businesses Boycott Arizona Over New Law

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And even though many Americans agree with Arizona's tough new immigration law, the call to boycott that state has intensified. More than a dozen U.S. cities, professional groups and foreign governments have warned against traveling to a state that depends heavily on tourism and conventions.

From member station KJZZ, Peter O'Dowd reports this comes at a time when business owners thought they might be pulling out of the recession.

PETER O'DOWD: It's lunch hour at the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, where owner Ben Bethel just absorbed another punch to the gut. He says in one day last week customers canceled 80 room reservations. That translates to about $8,000 bucks a big deal for a small boutique hotel.

Mr. BEN BETHEL (Owner, Clarendon Hotel): Especially at the tail end of this economic depression. We were so hopeful that things were recovering, but this is really a situation where it's actually going to be very difficult for us to recover from this.

O'DOWD: 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 as revenge, people like former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez are asking tourists to send their dollars elsewhere.

Mr. ALFREDO GUTIERREZ (Former Arizona State Senator): The question will inevitably be asked, aren't you hurting yourself? The answer to that question is yes, we are.

O'DOWD: Gutierrez says he wants to bring all sectors of Arizona's economy to a shocking halt, including its $7 billion hotel industry.

Mr. GUTIERREZ: We understand that our people are inordinately the dishwashers and the busboys for the hospitality industry. But we also understand it is they themselves who are the mothers and fathers of children in this state, they themselves who are asking for this boycott.

O'DOWD: 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 here on business. Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland have considered banning future contracts with Arizona businesses. Here's Oakland Council President Jane Brunner...

Ms. JANE BRUNNER (President, Oakland City Council): We don't want to hurt Arizona, but we don't want this kind of law to continue.

O'DOWD: Opponents are also targeting the region's bid for the next Republican National Convention and Major League Baseball's 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix. The World Boxing Council will no longer send Mexican fighters to Arizona.

Governor 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.

Governor JAN BREWER (Republican, Arizona): Why would they want to hurt the legal citizens, you and I and everybody else in this state? It just doesn't absolutely make any sense whatsoever to me.

O'DOWD: Brewer counters that the legislation is aimed at making Arizona safer, better for businesses.

Meanwhile, many experts are reluctant to speculate if the sanctions will actually work. But Elliot Pollack is not one of them. The local economist says Arizona is no stranger to controversy - or boycotts.

Mr. ELLIOT POLLACK (Economist): And you know what the long-term impacts of those things were? Zero.

O'DOWD: In the early 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.

Mr. WILL CONROY (President, Arizona Inn): It's absolutely certain for us that we've never seen anything like this before.

O'DOWD: Will Conroy is the president of Tucson's historic Arizona Inn. He thumbed through a stack of emails from customers who have canceled their reservations.

Mr. CONROY: I'm writing today to let you know that we will not be visiting the Arizona Inn anytime soon due to the anti-immigration climate in Arizona. The small role that 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.

O'DOWD: But this 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 now considering a move to Arizona.

For NPR News, I'm Peter O'Dowd.

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