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U.S. split over Ariz. immigration law

Image: U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., denounces Arizona’s tough new immigration law April 24 in Tucson. Grijalva, who shut his Tucson office the day before because of death threats, called for an economic boycott of Arizona because of the new law, which he called racist.John Moore / Getty Images
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Michael Clausen owns the Quality Inn in Nogales, Ariz.

For now.

Clausen says the hotel, which caters to people streaming across the Mexican border just seven blocks away, is in danger of closing, thanks to the state’s new illegal immigration law and the official and unofficial boycotts it has inspired.

The Sunday night after Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law on April 23, “we had three rooms occupied out of 97 in the hotel,” Clausen said. At the border, there was virtually no line to get into the country, he said. Usually, the wait is 1½ to two hours.

“It just fell through the floor,” he said. “People stopped crossing the border.”

The nearby Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, built 50 years ago by Bing Crosby, saw more than $300,000 of business vanish in just a week as customers canceled reservations.

“They feel badly they have to pull out,” said Linda Cormier, the resort’s general manager. “But they are feeling strongly about the boycott.”

The Arizona law has sharply divided political figures across the country.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles became the largest city yet to boycott Arizona in a move that will likely affect some $8 million in contracts to the state.

Elected leaders in dozens of other cities — from San Francisco to St. Paul, Minn., and Boston to Boulder, Colo. — have called for boycotts of the state.

At the same time, polls show significant support for laws like it, and lawmakers have introduced similar measures, or have announced plans to do so, in at least 12 other states.

Boycotts could have real effects
The backlash began as soon as Brewer signed the measure, which requires law enforcement officers to check someone’s immigration status if they have reason to suspect that he or she is in the country illegally. It is scheduled to take effect in July.

The city councils of Tucson and Flagstaff voted to challenge the law in court, and the mayor of Phoenix, the state’s largest city, joined protests against it.

Earlier this month, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., called for a national boycott of his own state. Such boycotts are not just symbolic: They typically trigger reviews of contracts with Arizona businesses and ban municipal employees from traveling to the state on official business.

Industry and activist groups also weighed in, promising to cancel lucrative conventions and other public events. Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s largest black fraternity, switched its national convention in July from Phoenix to Las Vegas, at an estimated cost of $300,000 in penalties, while the American Immigration Lawyers Association voted to move its fall conference to another state.

Other groups announcing boycotts included the Service Employees International Union, representing 2.2. million workers; the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, representing 1.3 million workers; and the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino activist organization.

The baseball players union pointedly noted that half of Major League Baseball’s teams conduct spring training in Arizona and called for the law to be repealed (Commissioner Bud Selig is also under pressure to yank the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix). And the Republican National Committee came under intense pressure not to choose Phoenix for its 2012 national convention before party leaders selected Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday.

Mexico turns the tables
In what could be the ultimate insult, the Mexican government issued a travel warning to Mexicans “visiting, living or studying in the state of Arizona,” mimicking numerous such advisories the U.S. State Department has issued about traveling to Mexico.

The Mexican government — saying the law “violates inalienable human rights protected by international legal provisions and the U.S. Constitution” — sent officials to meet with U.S. groups challenging the law to coordinate “protection and consular assistance” and to provide legal representation for Mexicans in the state, the Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed. It said Mexico would defend the rights of any Mexican nationals in Arizona, “regardless of their immigration status.”

Juan Carlos Escamilla, mayor of San Luis, Ariz., near the Mexican border, said such reactions had paralyzed business and government projects in the state.

San Luis had been set to take part in a business exposition next month in conjunction with the Arizona Mexico Commission, which fosters cooperation between Arizona and its neighbor to the south. But after Brewer signed the immigration law, Mexican officials dropped out, and the events were canceled.

“We feel that relationship we built so many years with our counterparts and our sister cities in Mexico, we’ve lost that, and it’s hurt,” Escamilla said.

Large majorities back law like Arizona’s
Protests against Arizona’s law have been held in various U.S. cities, some of them drawing thousands of people. But the law has also drawn considerable support across the country.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans — 64 percent — approved of the law in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday. The measure commanded a strong majority even though roughly the same percentage of respondents said they expected it to lead to discrimination against legal Latino immigrants.

Two other recent surveys, one by CBS News and The Wall Street Journal and the other by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press, mirrored those findings.

Idaho state Sen. Mike Jorgenson, a Republican, said people intuitively understood that illegal immigration diverted taxes and jobs that would otherwise go to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. That’s why he said he would introduce a measure in his state to crack down on the hiring of illegal immigrants by private businesses.

“Illegal immigration is costing Idaho about $200 million a year in the form of education, crime, actually imprisonment,” Jorgenson argued, citing research by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks to reduce immigration levels. “... What’s it costing our indigent care through counties?”

Image: Supporters of immigration bill SB1070
FILE - In this April 23, 2010 file photo, supporters of immigration bill SB1070 shout as they rally at the Arizona Capitol prior to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signing the tougher immigration bill into law in Phoenix. A number of factors combined to produce the law, including the ascent of a Republican governor and the slaying of an Arizona rancher, apparently by an illegal immigrant. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)Ross D. Franklin / AP

In Utah, Republican state Reps. Steve Sandstrom and Carl Wimmer said they would introduce a measure similar to the Arizona law, which drew support from 65 percent of state residents in a survey released last week by NBC station KSL-TV and the Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

“The states need to take steps, because illegal immigration has a legitimate impact on individual citizens and the economy,” Wimmer said. “Utah needs to be at the forefront of this discussion.”

Similar measures are in the works in Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Michigan, where Republican state Rep. Kim Meltzer said, “We have borders in place for a reason.”

Many hurdles before law takes effect
Back in Arizona, the immigration restrictions are scheduled to take effect in July, but first they must overcome numerous legal challenges. One of them could come from the federal government.

“We are considering all of our options. One of the things we are thinking about is the possibility of filing a lawsuit,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Beyond the widely cited civil rights concerns, Holder said the law could also be challenged on the grounds of “federal pre-emption,” saying it wasn’t clear that states had the authority to enforce immigration laws.

Janet Napolitano, who as secretary of homeland security oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also said she had “deep concerns with the law from the law enforcement perspective.”

“We think it will siphon and detract from resources that we need to focus on those in the country illegally who are committing the most serious crimes,” Napolitano said.

For Napolitano, the issue is an awkward one. To become President Barack Obama’s homeland security secretary, she resigned as governor of Arizona. During her tenure, she had vetoed several similar immigration measures.

Her successor was Jan Brewer.