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Arizona tourism loses more business in wake of immigration law vote

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010; 4:58 PM

Arizona took another hit Wednesday as Republicans cast a vote for the home of their 2012 convention. Phoenix made the short list but lost out to Tampa.

It was little surprise to tourism officials in Arizona. Since the state passed the nation's toughest immigration law three weeks ago, its meeting and events business has fallen drastically.

Hispanic civil rights groups are boycotting Arizona and urging others to do the same. Officials at the National Council of La Raza, one of the groups driving the boycott, had privately asked the RNC not to meet in Phoenix.

The city risks losing as much as $90 million in hotel and convention business over the next five years because of the controversy, according to city estimates released Wednesday. The state's hotel and lodging association has counted 23 canceled meetings for a loss of between $6 and $10 million. On Wednesday, Los Angeles became the largest city to join the boycott.

Choosing Phoenix would have also been controversial within Republican ranks. Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, whose popularity has been listed as one of the reasons Republicans picked Tampa, has said that the law puts the Arizona's police force in an "incredibly difficult position."

"It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens," Rubio said in a statement after the law passed.

Republican strategist Karl Rove has also said that he wished the law had not been passed.

Republican National Hispanic Assembly Chairman Alci Maldonado has not commented on the Arizona law but said before the vote was final that Florida is the "most Republican Hispanic state in the nation."

Arizona Republicans, including Gov. Jan Brewer, have stood more solidly behind their immigration law as a necessary tool for dealing with illegal immigration. She has also pushed back against the boycott, particularly the call for Major League Baseball to pull the 2011 All-Star game out of the state.

MLB owners, who have not commented on the boycott, begin a two-day quarterly meeting in New York this week. No major action items are on the agenda, but advocates of the boycott hope it will be discussed.

"You have a sport that the Latino community loves, whether you are a recent immigrant or native born, Latinos see baseball at their sport," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns at NCLR. "The question is: As a sport where do they stand?"

The MLB Players Association has come out in opposition to the law, as have the Phoenix Suns. The team wore its "Los Suns" jerseys last week specifically to push back against the state's law. The decision came from team owner Robert Sarver, who suggested the players wear their Noche Latina alternates.

Arizona and Brewer further irritated Hispanic groups Tuesday night by signing into law a bill that restricts the teaching of ethnic studies classes in public schools. The bill, HB 2281, would ban schools from teaching classes that are designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals.

The bill was written to target the Chicano or Mexican American studies program in the Tucson school system, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Ethnic studies are taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and are an integral part of the curriculum in Tucson.

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