Add Shakira and Gloria Estefan to the list of public figures riled by Arizona’s new immigration law. The Latin pop stars join Barack Obama, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, the mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco and even the LA archbishop, all of whom have spoken out against the controversial measures. On May Day, thousands of opponents took to the streets of US cities.
The law, which was signed by the state’s Republican governor in late April, specifies that Arizona police can detain any person suspected of being in the United States illegally and check their immigration status. The law also criminalises the failure to carry immigration documents. Punishments include a maximum six-month jail sentence and $2,500 (€2,000) fine.
It is clear why the law has come into being. Arizona, a Mexican border state, has a dramatic illegal immigration problem and in 2008 was home to an estimated half-million illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center (the state’s population is currently 6.5 million). But the new provisions are troubling many.
Critics contend that it will lead to rampant racial profiling. Only people of Hispanic appearance will be targeted by the police, they say. What’s more, some legal observers suggest that the federal government alone, not individual states, has the authority to prosecute illegal immigrants.
The response has been vociferous. Before the law was signed, Obama called it “misguided” and directed the Justice Department to examine its legality. Calderon said it “opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement”. Shakira and Estefan have both taken part in protests. And on his blog, LA archbishop Roger M Mahony said the law encouraged “German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques.”
Now there are calls for a boycott of the state, including by San Francisco lawmakers, and the Mexican Foreign Ministry has advised Mexicans to exercise caution in Arizona.
It remains to be seen if the various challenges will make a difference, although the law has the support of about two-thirds of Arizona voters, a Rasmussen Reports poll found. It is due to take effect by August.
But as the fallout continues and the state’s image takes a battering, some Arizonans are worried. Take the tourism industry. Putting aside whether San Franciscans will patronise the Grand Canyon and other destinations, there is the more significant question of Mexicans. A 2008 study by the Arizona Office of Tourism reported that approximately 24 million Mexicans travelled to Arizona in the year beginning July 2007, spending over $7.35m a day. In Santa Clara county on the border, they accounted for almost half of all sales receipts.
“We finally have what is beginning to look like an upswing for the travel industry,” Kimberly Schmitz of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau told Monocle. “This is not helpful.”