Cities Still Boycotting Arizona, But Does It Matter?

At least 22 cities and counties have passed resolutions condemning the SB 1070-state.

By Julianne Hing Aug 03, 2010

Last Wednesday when a federal judge blocked portions of SB 1070 from going into effect, progressive Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva called on the his state’s critics to step back and re-evaluate an ongoing boycott. "This is an important moment for the nation to pause and take a deep breath," Grijalva told Business Week. Boycott organizers in Arizona disagree.

"We take the position that perhaps one of the many tools we have is in fact to cause great damage to the economy, to let folks here know, we will wreak havoc on the economy," says Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator and a Arizona boycott organizer.

Among other things, boycott organizers have called on consumers to stop buying Jimmy John’s sandwiches, Anheuser-Busch beer (from Hensley beer distributors) and Frito-Lay chips–all of which have backed local lawmakers who supported SB 1070. Activists in Arizona have also initiated community education, voter mobilization and noncompliance campaigns to resist the new law. "The mood in Arizona is worsening by the minute. We all saw it last week. CNN declared our great victory," Gutierrez said. "There is no victory in Arizona."

SB 1070 creates a new class of crimes for simply being undocumented in Arizona. Last Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton blocked sections of the law that would have given police the authority to detain anyone they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe was in the state without papers, and would have made it a crime to be caught without proof of legal status. Bolton also enjoined the portions of S.B. 1070 that allowed law enforcement to hold a person in custody until their immigration status was determined. Now it is up to the courts to decide the constitutionality of these provisions.

Meanwhile, sections of SB 1070 were allowed to stand, including portions that make it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants. Arizona cities may not institute so-called "sanctuary cities" that block partnerships between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. And under the new law private citizens have the right to sue their local governments if they feel cities are not enforcing immigration law to the fullest extent, and law enforcement has the right to impound cars belonging to or found transporting undocumented immigrants. SB 1070 also bolstered employer sanctions.

Around the country, municipalities continue to show their solidarity for the boycott effort, with varying degrees of sincerity. At least 22 cities and counties have now passed boycott resolutions and two more are debating them. (Check our our updated map of Arizona boycott resolutions.) Depending on who you talk to, the boycotts are either crippling Arizona or having no effect whatsoever.

Last Wednesday, Chicago introduced its second boycott resolution, a follow-up to a non-binding statement it passed in June. The new resolution reiterates the city’s disapproval of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. But Chicago’s finding that it’s easier to condemn SB 1070 than to join that rhetoric with action.

Chicago’s new resolution calls for the city to reject future business dealings with Arizona-based businesses and asks that public funds not be used to send city employees to the state. It also calls on the city’s two baseball teams to move their spring training programs out of the state. "We need to set the example for others in the country, and I think this resolution does so," Alderman Toni Preckwinkle said at a rally on Wednesday. "This country can do better than Arizona."

But just because a city’s got a boycott on the books doesn’t mean they’ll actually stop sending money to the state. The original resolution calls for the city to avoid entering into business agreements with Arizona-based companies "to the extent practicable," and only when doing so doesn’t cost the county more money. Most cities’ boycott resolutions have similarly loose language. Back in June, Cook County, which encompasses Chicago, passed its boycott resolution and awarded a Scottsdale, Arizona, traffic-light company a lucrative contract in the same meeting. Cook County alone has 79 open contracts with Arizona-based businesses, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, and none of them have been threatened by the boycott.

Los Angeles has run into similar issues. LAPD asked the city for an exemption in June so they could buy red-light systems from the same Arizona company Cook County is paying.

Nonetheless, USA Today reported that Phoenix hotels had lost $11.8 million to conference cancellations since SB 1070 became law, though individual hotel reservations haven’t been hurt. The Arizona Republic reported that one Arizona-based medical records business had to relocate to Las Vegas because it was losing so much business. And local business has been hurt badly enough that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer set aside $250,000 of city funds to create a tourism task force to combat the boycott talk–though the governor’s constant warnings about phantom headless bodies melting in the Arizona desert probably isn’t boosting tourism either.

Back in May I spoke with Lawrence Glickman, a labor historian at the University of South Carolina who’s written a book on consumer activism, and he noted that even toothless gestures can be crucial elements of boycott campaigns. "Part of the boycott is symbolic politics," he said then. "But symbolism can be important."

To wit, dozens of cities, school boards and professional organizations have passed resolutions condemning Arizona. Meanwhile, others including Salt Lake City and the Los Angeles suburb of Yorba Linda, have passed resolutions in support of Arizona. In the case of Ozaukee County in Wisconsin (population: 82,000), the county issued an apology to Arizona on July 8 when the Milwaukee Area Technical College passed its own boycott resolution. Supervisor Robert Walerstein called a boycott of Arizona "divisive and intolerant."