Los Angeles vs. Arizona: Who Wins in Immigration Law Dust-Up?

Los Angeles has voted to boycott Arizona because of its immigration law, and the UN has suggested it could violate human rights. Will any of this matter to Arizonans?

Los Angeles – Two recent high-profile actions – the Los Angeles City Council voting to boycott Arizona, and a United Nations statement condemning the state’s new illegal immigration law – raise the question: what are the potential impacts of these moves?

Los Angeles on Wednesday became the largest US city to authorize sanctions against Arizona because of its tough new immigration law. The city council voted 13-1 to prohibit the city from conducting business with Arizona unless SB 1070 – signed into law April 24, and set to take effect July 29 – is repealed. The UN statement, released Tuesday, said SB 1070 could violate international human rights standards that are binding in the US.

The law requires police to ask for proof of citizenship or legal residence from anyone they stop, if officers have reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally.

Analysts are split on how much effect the two actions will have. Some say the amount of money at stake in the boycott is too small to create any monetary incentive for Arizona to change the law. Estimates on its financial impact range on Arizona from $7 million to $52 million. But the port, airport, and utility companies of Los Angeles are run by semiautonomous city agencies that can’t be forced to comply.

The financial hit will be worth it, says Bob Dane, national spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Even if the boycotts results in lost revenue, the odds are that the money lost will be far less than the $2 billion it costs Arizona taxpayers for illegal immigration in education, health care and incarceration,” he says. “If you consider further the benefits in terms of public safety, improved student-teacher ratios, higher wages, better jobs and higher wage opportunities for legal Arizona residents, higher tax payments made by workers actually paying into the system, and overall improvements in quality of life, the balance sheet looks pretty good over the long run for Arizona.”

Whatever the number, supporters of the boycott and immigration rights activists say the recession gives it more weight.

“In this recession, many devastated cities and states have been looking toward tourism for recovery,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. “So now we think with this boycott going on, tourists will choose other options and that will have additional economic clout.”

The UN assessment, though a black eye for Arizona, may have even less of a tangible impact, analysts say.

The six UN experts – from Mexico, Kenya, the United States, and Costa Rica – wrote: “A disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established with the adoption of an immigration law that may allow for police action targeting individuals on the basis of their perceived ethnic origin.”

The US – unlike many other countries – has carefully avoided subjecting itself to international laws which would govern or otherwise be given effect with the US without there being a separate domestic law to implement that international law within the country.

“The general rule is that provisions of international laws are not self-executing within the USA absent an implementing domestic law. So the opinions of the UN experts cannot be enforced or given any legal effect within the US,” says Niels W. Frenzen, a professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.

“They are certainly powerful opinions which convey the growing international condemnation of the Arizona laws and their statements and opinions strengthen the political opposition to what Arizona has done,” he adds.

Hispanic leaders said that no matter what Arizona does, the UN action has moral teeth.

“I don’t know if the UN statement will make them repeal the law, but it is bringing international attention to how ill advised, mean spirited and racist this law is,” says Mr. Vargas.

Others say the UN statement will help with legal challenges to the immigration law. “The UN response is welcome although tepid,” says Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “Its impact will be felt strongest when this inhumane law goes to court because it will speak to the universal chaos it has created.”

Three lawsuits seeking to block the implementation of SB 1070 are pending in federal court.