SB 1070: Is Arizona Willing to Take a $18.6 Billion Travel Industry Hit or Suffer Long-Term Economic Consequences From Its Dalliance with Ethnic Cleansing?


If there's anything you can take from the fallout over SB 1070 in this state, it's that a large number of Arizonans want "illegals" out.

That the term "illegals" is often used to mean all Hispanics should be obvious to anyone who pays attention to the ranters on talk radio, in the blogs, or in the streets.

I've argued with people on Facebook who insist they are not bigots yet use words like "leeches" to label those who are here without papers. Turn on local right-wing station KTAR 92.3 FM on any given day, and you'll hear the angry voices who are fed up with the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the state.

On my Feathered Bastard blog, there have even been those who have — anonymously, of course — applauded the recent shooting of a Hispanic man by his Anglo neighbor in South Phoenix.

Before Gary Kelley, the Anglo, allegedly pulled the trigger, he berated the victim with racial slurs, telling him to go back to Mexico. At least that's what a witness told police.

The fact that many of his Hispanic neighbors did not regard him as a racist and that the cops have labeled the incident a "neighborhood dispute," doesn't lessen the fact that there are those who see in the white-on-brown murder a fulfillment of their own hatred.

At the very top of SB 1070, it states that the "intent" of the law is to make "attrition through enforcement" the policy of the state. In other words, the law seeks to make conditions in Arizona so harsh for immigrants and their families that they will leave.

So the message, at least, is clear. But is Arizona willing to bear the consequences of its political decision, including a boycott that could cost the city of Phoenix alone $90 million in lost revenue and, perhaps, the removal of baseball's 2011 All-Star Game from the city?

Is Arizona willing to take the hit to its $18.6 billion travel industry? And perhaps more important, is it willing to shoulder the long-term economic consequences from its dalliance with ethnic cleansing?

If you're concerned about the impact of SB 1070 on Arizona's economy and reputation, there's a film you should see, the award-winning documentary 9500 Liberty, which continues its run this week at Harkins' Valley Art on Mill Avenue in Tempe.

In it, filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler captured the maelstrom in Prince William County, Virginia, in 2007 and 2008 over a county Board of Supervisors resolution mandating that law enforcement officers inquire into the citizenship status of detainees, based on "probable cause" that they might be in the country sans papers.

Sound familiar? That's because the resolution, and Arizona's SB 1070, were authored by the same crowd at the nativist extremist group FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Of the Prince William County measure, Mike Hethmon, general counsel for FAIR's legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, crowed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that "to the extent that there is some kind of mad scientist behind all this, we'll be happy to take credit."

One of Hethmon's fellow lawyers at IRLI is Kris Kobach, the guy getting paid $300 an hour in Maricopa County funds to "train" Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies in immigration law.

Kobach helped SB 1070's sponsor, neo-Nazi hugger and state Senator Russell Pearce, draft the statute. Even regarding tweaks to the law made after Governor Jan Brewer signed it, Kobach e-mailed Pearce, instructing Arizona's number-one bigot on the precise language to include.

FAIR has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and for good reason.

Watching 9500 Liberty gives you an indication of the ethnic tension FAIR helped spawn in Prince William County.

The community was effectively divided. "Illegals" became the scapegoats for all the county's ills. And those who opposed the new mandate were the subjects of the sort of ethnic McCarthyism that's well known to residents of Arizona.

Even Prince William County's beloved police chief, Charlie Deane, was at one point smeared as a traitor. This, by a local blogger and activist who'd led a political juggernaut that got the resolution passed.

See, Deane, like a lot of top law enforcement brass here in Cactus Country, had trouble accepting what an unfunded mandate forces on a police department.

So what happened in the Virginia county as a result of its "probable cause" measure, as it's referred to in the film? Well, the immigrants vamoosed, causing a devastating blow to the economy.

This impact was best summed up in the documentary by Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. He detailed how the exodus ravaged the county economically, robbing it of revenue generated by sales taxes and other taxes that everyone paid, regardless of status.

Although the region was suffering a general housing crisis, PWC ended up leading the pack in foreclosures by an exponential amount.

"The housing markets where these people have lived," stated Fuller, "those houses generate real estate tax. A deteriorating house generates less real estate tax than one that's up and running."

In other words, when the brown people leave, your property values decline.

But there's more: This depopulation causes an economic ripple effect that touches all business people, white, brown, and other.

"These predominantly Hispanic shoppers shopped in stores that weren't Hispanic," Fuller told the filmmakers. "These stores operate in a very small margin. If you lose 10 percent of your sales, that may be the difference between success and failure."

PWC didn't face a boycott like the one Arizona's now staring into, but in a world where capital is fluid, capital can choose to go elsewhere.

"Investors avoid controversy," noted Fuller, in an observation that seems prescient considering Arizona's current situation. "A controversial company loses its investors. It happens in local economies, too."

Ultimately, the economic doldrums caused by the flight of brown folk moved PWC to reconsider. About nine months after it passed its "probable cause" resolution, PWC's Board of Supervisors reversed itself and axed the most onerous provisions.

There are vast differences between Prince William County and Arizona. Hell, PWC only has about 380,000 souls in it. Arizona boasts a population of more than 6.5 million.

Plus, most of Arizona's 30 percent Hispanic population have been here for generations, are U.S. citizens, and could vote, if they're registered. This was not the case in PWC.

Still, as far as the battle lines presented in 9500 Liberty, Prince William County is a microcosm of Arizona.

The filmmakers are already beginning an interactive YouTube project for Sand Land, much like the one in PWC that birthed their documentary. And they are recruiting Arizonans to help with the all the filming and videotaping that will be necessary to cover the state.

They've been in town for Q & A sessions since the film began its run, which has been presented by New Times.

But the question I have is how long will it take before Arizona completes the same story arc that PWC has traversed? That's a question for which neither the filmmakers nor anyone else I know of has the answer.