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Arizona Immigration Law Hurts Reputation, Business

Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law went into effect a week ago, albeit with its most contested provisions blocked until November, at least. But the law’s economic impact on the state may be lingering. After the law was announced, boycotts of the state sprang up around the country, and officials from the tourism industry worried they’d be hard hit, issuing a statement in May that the law “could easily have a devastating effect on visitation to our state.”

According to at least one metric, the boycotts did make an impact. The Arizona Republic reported this week that fewer companies and organizations are choosing Arizona to host conventions and meetings in the state because of the law:

Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association chief executive Debbie Johnson says the state has lost about 40 conventions and $15 million so far. And she says that’s “a lowball guess.”

Johnson says if there’s one bright spot, hotel bookings are up from last year.

Convention organizers say it will take a lot of work to rebuild the state’s tattered image over immigration.

The state’s reputation was damaged further among the immigrant population, experts said. About 460,000 illegal immigrants were estimated to live in Arizona in 2009. Hard numbers are impossible to come by, but anecdotal evidence for immigrants fleeing the state is rife in the press. USA Today reported unusual drops in enrollment at elementary schools, while Reuters wrote that many immigrants held yard sales to get rid of their belongings before fleeing. Local businesses are hurting — they have fewer customers and employees as people leave Arizona, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, the law was meant to drive illegal immigrants out of the state. But even losing part of the illegal immigrant population could have damaging economic effects, said Marc Rosenblum, senior policy analyst at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute. “We’ve definitely seen some anecdotal evidence that people are leaving, not just unauthorized immigrants but probably some legal immigrants as well,” he told TWI. “Businesses are feeling an impact, both because they may find a shortage of workers but also a shortage of customers.”

The fact that the law was not fully implemented will not altogether mend damage to Arizona’s reputation, said Mary Moreno, a spokeswoman for immigrant-friendly Center for Community Change. “It’s already caused a lot of harm, even without going into effect,” she told me. “Just the fact that it was passed has done a lot. Arizona has already battled with being perceived as a racist state — it’s set back the state a lot.”

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