Arizona Deals with Negative PR Effects of Immigration Law

Arizona‘s SB 1070, enacted in 2010 in an effort to eliminate undocumented immigration, has faced legal challenges and widespread criticism. When the law was first written, it authorized warrantless arrests, made the act of seeking work a criminal offense for undocumented immigrants and required all immigrants (even the legal ones) to carry papers at all times.

The United States Supreme Court struck down those components of the law but upheld the controversial portion that authorizes police to ask anyone in Arizona for documentation of citizenship or immigration status.

While the law has many supporters, civil rights groups cried foul and encouraged widespread boycotts of Arizona tourism and other businesses. While the PR risks of SB 1070 have been clear for some time, recent data reveals just how seriously the controversy has affected the state’s economy.

It makes sense that 2010 would have seen negative effects due to fresh outrage; a report by the Center for American Progress found that Arizona lost $141 million in tourism revenue that year, and Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations just four months after the bill first passed.

Years later, however, the situation does not seem to be improving–even after the Supreme Court nullified large parts of the law. While no one is sure exactly how much revenue the state has lost in direct response to SB 1070, bookings at the Phoenix Convention Center are estimated to have decreased by a third since 2009, costing $132 million in 2012 alone. This severe drop in business cannot simply be blamed on the slowing economy, as bookings at similar convention centers in other states have remained steady or risen during the same time period. While these cancellations may seem self-contained, the missing revenue translates into lost economic output and lost wages.

Public policy is never exempt from public relations issues, but we wonder whether Arizona lawmakers considered the potentially devastating economic impacts of passing such a controversial law (especially since the law was created, at least in part, to protect the state’s economy). At this point, we aren’t sure anything short of repealing the law could fully reverse the PR backlash, and it doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime in the near future.