In addressing a gathering of out-of-state event planners recently, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D), said:
“What you may have read about our Legislature, don’t hold against the rest of us. The rest of us, we’re normal. We like diversity.”
What Stanton was referring to, of course, was the controversial anti-immigration bill, SB 1070, passed by the Arizona legislature in April, 2010 in hopes of ridding the state of undocumented immigrants. Many prognosticators foresaw the huge financial losses that Arizona would suffer as a result. A study by the Center for American Progress, released in late 2010, estimated the loss at over $141 million for that year alone.
There was an immediate rash of cancellations of conferences after the law was passed, but the effect goes on. Many events are planned four or five years ahead of time and groups that stopped calling back then have been reluctant to resume inquiries about Phoenix as a destination. In 2009, the Phoenix Convention Center boasted over 275,000 guests from event bookings. The projections for 2013 are for a little over 184,000. The loss in spending will total a minimum of $132 million, to say nothing of the accumulated losses in the intervening years or the losses in other parts of the state.
Back then, the president of Alpha Phi Alpha, an historically black fraternity, initiated a boycott of Arizona, saying:
“We will not only speak with our voices and our feet, we will speak with our economic clout. And we will not spend our money in Arizona and urge other organizations and people who believe in equality under the law to do the same.”
Many followed suit, including 14 cities that boycotted the state. Organizations that are still wary of Arizona are afraid that their minority members will be stopped by the police. After all, even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most of the law, it left one key provision intact: the requirement that police officers try to determine whether a person is in the country illegally if the officers suspect that is the case.
What’s an out-of-state visitor supposed to do when proof of citizenship is demanded? Certainly it would be both ridiculous and illegal for groups to ask some of their members to stay home because of their ethnicity. And certainly, while Mayor Stanton is trying to assure visitors that Phoenix is a progressive, diverse city, the state’s governor and legislative leaders are still in power and unrepentant regarding SB 1070.
In addition, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — just re-elected by a less-than-enlightened public — insists that he will continue conducting raids to apprehend illegal immigrants. On election night, he said:
“I will continue to enforce all the laws, including illegal immigration. Nothing changes.”
And, yes, Phoenix is in Maricopa County, Arpaio’s jurisdiction. How many groups would be willing to risk the odds? Apparently, not many.