We seem incapable of dealing with illegal immigration. As a nation, we're ambivalent about enforcing the law and securing the border. Like Prohibition, immigration is enforced intermittently, seemingly half-heartedly. Perhaps we should either get serious or throw in the towel.
Illegal immigrants are an important part of the economy, especially in places like California. They do very hard work for relatively low pay. They're one reason food prices are low for all Americans. They also put a strain on the criminal justice system, hospitals and schools.
The hot Southwestern desert border is a long way from Washington, D.C., but the human trafficking that goes on there cannot be ignored forever. Whether or not you support the new law in Arizona, it may have the beneficial effect of putting immigration on the front burner.
Arizona may pay a price for taking a hard line. Cities like San Francisco are banning all government-sponsored travel to the Grand Canyon State. Many are calling for boycotts of Arizona-based companies. Those companies include everyone from Avnet to PetSmart, US Airways to U-Haul. Some are urging Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game from Phoenix in 2011.
Tourism is an $18.5 billion industry for Arizona, and the state has been down this road before. In the 1990s, when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a holiday, the state reportedly lost 130 conventionsplus a Super Bowl, costing it an estimated $350 million.
What is the impact so far of the new law?
"It's too early to tell," a park ranger at The Grand Canyon says. But the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association told me that 19 meetings were cancelled in the law's first week. "These groups represent more than 15,000 room nights and have an economic impact of more than $6 million to the state." The association says it cannot yet quantify additional losses due to cancellations from leisure travelers.
Arizona-based Best Western International tells us, "Punishing a hotel and tourism industry that prides itself on treating all of its guests and employees with dignity and respect is an irrational, unfair reaction that fails to properly address the real issue. We believe in the democratic processes that are the foundation of our country, and have faith that they should be trusted to, and will, properly resolve the difficult issue of immigration reform in America."
"Most people understand the boycott is ridiculous," says GoDaddy CEO and Founder Bob Parsons in Scottsdale. "It makes no sense to punish or exact revenge against a business, that has nothing to do with immigration, simply because the business is located in Arizona."
Scottsdale-based Cold Stone Creamery says a boycott against it is a boycott against America. "What many Americans might be surprised to know is that Cold Stone Creamery's stores are franchises. This means a boycott of Cold Stone Creamery is mostly burdening small business owners in local communities across the country."
And then there's AriZona Iced Tea, named as a boycott target. Problem is, the company is based in New York, not Arizona. "In 1992, two hard working guys from Brooklyn with a dream created AriZona Iced Tea," says Founder Don Vultaggio in a statement, saying the company has never left Long Island. "We are very proud to be an American company with roots in New York and we look forward to continuing to provide you with the high quality and value driven products we've been making for the last 18 years."
Not everyone wants to boycott Arizona. Some are now steering business to the state in a show of support. Radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of LA station KFI have repeatedly focused on the problems of illegal immigration. They plan to do their show live from the Capitol in Phoenix on Tuesday and buy up as many goods as they can while in town. And one owner of a packaging company in Orange County, California, tells me, "Poor Arizona is getting a bum rap...we now offer free freight on all orders shipped to Arizona."