Seeking the best way to boycott Arizona over immigration law

By Robert McCartney
Thursday, April 29, 2010; B01

The question isn't whether to start an economic boycott to pressure Arizona to repeal its new immigration law. For me, that's a given.

The question is which products and services to blacklist to get results fastest, while minimizing needless harm.

Proposals abound already. Conventions. Tourism. Lettuce (a major Arizona product).

I vote to start with baseball, and I'm not alone. National and local Latino groups are actively discussing whether to urge people to boycott Arizona Diamondbacks games. One reason: Some of the team's owners are big donors to politicians who backed the bill.

They also want to move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix, and they might push to relocate the spring training Cactus League.

"Major League Baseball has been identified immediately as a major target," said Jeff Parcher, communications director of the Center for Community Change. "There's not only Latino players but also Latino attendance."

Arizona's been through this before. A conventions boycott pushed the state to resume recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1992. That was also the price for getting the 1996 Super Bowl.

The new effort is part of a strong, instant backlash among Latinos against the Arizona law signed last week. Nationwide rallies on Saturday seem likely to attract passionate crowds, including at the White House, where civil disobedience is planned.

"In our community, we are ready to fight," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland.

For many Americans, including in our region, the immigration controversy has seemed dormant since 2007. However, frustration has continued to swell in Arizona and some other states over the federal government's failure to address the presence of about 12 million illegal residents in the nation.

On the other side, immigrant rights groups are upset with President Obama for failing to show more leadership on the issue.

Now the surge of activism from both camps has put the issue back on the nation's agenda. So, pick your side. Is your priority finding a way to convert illegal immigrants to citizens? Or is it more important to deport them as punishment for living here on the sly?

On the Arizona law, I like the idea of a boycott because it's so all-American. The original Tea Party, you'll remember, was in support of a boycott.

The law, by contrast, is quite un-American. First, it permits some racial profiling by police. Its language empowers law-enforcement officers to use race, color or national origin as a criterion -- though not the sole one -- for deciding whether there's a "reasonable suspicion" that somebody is here illegally.

"This is about what you look like. We're not a nation that's about passing laws on what you look like," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

The law is also objectionable because it springs partly from hostility to people from foreign cultures. Such surges of nativist feeling have marred America throughout its history.

Each time, however, that trend has eventually lost out to the ideal of America as a society that welcomes different peoples. It's an imperfect and incomplete process, to be sure. But that's been the trend.

Ironically, some people furious over immigrants today are the descendants of ethnic groups that needed generations to win acceptance.

"The Latino movement today is in many ways similar to the movement of second-generation Euro-American ethnics in the decades after World War II -- Jews, Italians, etc. -- who insisted on their equal inclusion in American society," said Mae Ngai, a Columbia University history professor who specializes in immigration.

There's one big hole in my argument, and I don't underestimate it. The vast majority of U.S. immigrants in past generations came with legal permission. That's not true today. Supporters of the Arizona measure, who polls show are more than two-thirds of the state, say that this is a nation of laws and that we need to enforce them.

That position has flaws, however. First, the Arizona law might be unconstitutional, because it gives the state powers that belong to the federal government alone.

Furthermore, it'd be unjust as well as impractical to address our long-standing immigration problem by vilifying, harassing and possibly deporting millions of illegal residents. We've tolerated their presence for decades. Parts of our economy rely heavily on them.

"You wanted us to build your houses and tend to your lawns. Now that things are getting tight, you don't want us around," said Andrew Rivera, president of the Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia.

Is a compromise available? Absolutely. Everybody knows what comprehensive immigration reform would look like. It's a "three-legged stool" of gradual legalization, serious sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers and a guest-worker program.

Among the biggest obstacles: nativist rejection of anything resembling "amnesty" for people here now.

Until reform arrives, we need to show Arizona how much its law offends us. My Washington Nationals schedule shows the Diamondbacks come to town Aug. 13 for a three-game series. I expect I'll have something else to do that weekend.

I discuss local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM).

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