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Concern grows over Arizona immigration law

Arizona’s strict anti-illegal immigration legislation that was signed into law last month has provoked a growing number of boycotts and concerns among hospitality operators in the state. 

The city council of Oakland, Calif., voted unanimously this week for a boycott, urging city officials not to contract or buy goods with companies with headquarters in Arizona and barring city officials from traveling to Arizona on official business. Similar measures were being considering in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

And within Arizona itself, city councils in Flagstaff and Tucson voted to sue the state over the new law, expressing concern over the impact on tourism and enforcement costs. Tourism brings about $12 billion each year and employs more than 250,000 people in Arizona. 

Arizona’s law requires local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect they are illegally in the country. 

The Arizona Restaurant Association expressed concern about the impact of the law on the state's reputation and called on federal lawmakers to revisit the nation's immigration laws. 

“Immigration legislation signed into law recently has once again placed Arizona front and center in the immigration debate and brought with it state boycotts, national criticism of our state leaders and negative media attention," the association said in a statement. "While this attention is to be expected, we should also expect our leaders in the United States Congress in tandem with other federal officials to bring about fundamental reform to our immigration laws, which haven’t occurred in over two decades.”

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association in Atlanta, which said its members own about 40 percent of the 1,100 lodging properties in Arizona, on Tuesday urged business and leisure travelers to continue visiting the state. 

“A boycott of Arizona will harm the lodging industry and the employees who depend on traveling guests for their next paychecks, but it will not solve any immigration problems,” said Tarun S. Patel, chairman of the AAHOA. 

In addition to possible boycotts, restaurants in Arizona may face challenges when it comes to their own employees, said John Sullivan, a human resources strategist and author of “Rethinking Strategic HR." 

“Restaurants in Arizona, particularly those that are less formal with regards to their hiring practices are those most likely to experience issues," he said. 

Arizona employers are required to verify worker eligibility with the federal government's E-Verify system, Sullivan said.

“That said, many smaller family-run restaurants across the nation continue to hire undocumented or loosely documented labor,” he noted. “It is those establishments most likely to feel the brunt of law enforcement action in Arizona.”

As tensions heighten, Sullivan advised that restaurant managers be prepared to handle conflicts that might arise between employees and customers. 

“They should also be prepared for ongoing discussion among staff to ruffle emotions and contribute to a lack of camaraderie and teamwork," he said. 

“In rare cases,” he warned, “you may even see disgruntled employees tipping off authorities that the establishment routinely hires undocumented workers, leading to raids and investigations that disturb normal business operations.” 

Other possible issues restaurants should be prepared for, Sullivan said, include an increase in identity theft as undocumented workers vie for credentials that will enable them earn an income.

“While unlikely, operators may also see some demand for increase in wages and union organization as alternative labor because less of a threat to fully documented labor,” Sullivan said, adding that “neighboring states should expect some migration of both undocumented and documented labor fleeing the state, making more labor available and decreasing wage pressures.” 

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].


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