LA City Council approves boycott of Arizona over immigration law

Carl Bergquist, a blond-haired Swedish immigrant, wore this T-shirt to a Los Angeles City Council meeting where the council approved an economic boycott of Arizona.
Carl Bergquist, a blond-haired Swedish immigrant, wore this T-shirt to a Los Angeles City Council meeting where the council approved an economic boycott of Arizona.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Los Angeles City Council members Wednesday assailed Arizona's new immigration law as they approved an economic boycott of the state. The council banned most official city travel to Arizona and future city contracts with companies based there. The move is designed to pressure Arizona to repeal a law that makes it a state crime to lack immigration papers, and which allows police to check the immigration status of people they have stopped for another reason.

Personal stories of a nation built by immigrants dominated the L.A. City Council debate over Arizona’s new law.

Councilman Richard Alarcon struggled to fight back tears as he recalled his grandmother, who grew up in Arizona 100 years ago before moving to California.

“She struggled in the fields, hunchback. I always knew her as having a hunchback."

Members of the overwhelmingly Democratic city council called Arizona’s law an un-American statute that would encourage racial profiling of Latino immigrants.

"I see this as not only an affront to myself, to people who look like me, but it’s an affront to all of us," said Councilman Jose Huizar, who is an immigrant from Mexico.

"We must deal swiftly and strongly with this ill-conceived law before it spreads anywhere else."

"This is very frightening," Councilman Paul Koretz said. "If this was being proposed at the federal level, I would think we were absolutely at the very beginnings of what went on in Nazi Germany."

Under the boycott, the city council suspended all travel to Arizona for city-related business. It also banned new contracts with companies headquartered in Arizona, when legally and fiscally possible, and ordered a review of all existing city contracts.

The city controller's office says L.A. has 15 contracts with Arizona-based companies that are worth a combined total of about $8 million.

The city's proprietary departments – Water and Power, Harbor and Airport – have another $52 million in affected contracts. But the City Council can only ask those departments to terminate the contracts – they don’t have to comply.

Councilman Tony Cardenas said the issue stirred a flurry of messages to his and his colleagues’ offices. Many came from people who support Arizona’s law, and some included racial epithets.

“With all the nasty e-mails that we’ve been getting... we’re not standing here for what is popular, we are standing here for what is right."

Only City Councilman Greig Smith of the San Fernando Valley voted against the boycott. He declined to comment.

Immigrant rights activists urged the council to enact the boycott.

Outside the meeting, Carl Bergquist of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights wore a T-shirt that read “Do I look Illegal?”

“I’m from Sweden originally though I may not sound like it," said the blond haired, bespectacled activist. "I know Swedish people who are illegal, who are undocumented. I’m sure there are a lot of Swedish nannies around as well, au pairs, that are undocumented."

"You know, how are they going to determine who they’re going to stop?" he asked.

Ernesto Pantoja, whose parents are immigrants, said they’re considering selling property they own in Arizona. The Dodger fan said he’ll give up annual trips to the team’s spring training in Arizona.

“I will from now refrain from traveling to Arizona and/or buying any products that are made in Arizona.”

Pantoja, 31, won’t go to Dodger games when they play Arizona, but he conceded that boycotts have their limits. He said he would have liked to have seen some of Hispanic players with the Dodgers take a stand like when Sandy Koufax chose not to play because it was a Jewish holiday. "But considering the Dodgers' record right now, I’m glad they didn’t because we won yesterday," he said laughing.

Pantoja got serious again, and said that he hopes L.A.’s decision to boycott Arizona will prompt other cities to do the same – and that the end result will be a repeal of he believes is a law that scapegoats immigrants.