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Arizona Boycotts Could Hit Hispanic Hospitality Workers

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Demonstrators march to Arizona's State Capitol to protest the state's immigration law in Phoenix May 5. (Reuters Photo)

The raft of boycotts being imposed on Arizona over its immigration law could up end hitting Hispanic workers as hard as anyone. 

Hispanics make up a huge chunk of the state's hospitality and service sector workforce -- and with city governments and organizations pulling the plug on travel and conventions in Arizona, state officials point out that Hispanic workers stand to lose. 

They say it makes little sense for officials protesting the Arizona law out of concern that it would subject Hispanic immigrants to racial profiling to register their dismay by targeting the tourism industry. 

"These boycotts could be hurting the very same people that they profess to be helping," said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

The worst-case-scenario estimates for the financial impact of lost convention business alone are staggering. Phoenix officials say their city could lose up to $90 million in the next five years over the protests. The figure represents not just lost convention and hotel fees but other money tourists would otherwise spend in the city. 

Organizations and governments who are implementing the boycotts have described their actions as a way to both protect Hispanic travelers from Arizona's policies and apply pressure on the state. 

"Boycotts work," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said last month when he announced his support for his city's proposed ban on Arizona. The City Council passed the measure last week. 

Other California cities, including San Diego and San Francisco, have gone the same route. The Seattle City Council approved a similar boycott Monday. Among the organizations that have canceled conventions in Arizona are the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 

The cancelations and decrees have prompted a tit-for-tat, in which Arizona residents have threatened to counter-boycott. 

But Hispanic workers could bear the brunt of the inter-state dispute. Hispanics make up close to 30 percent of the workforce in Arizona -- and nearly 40 percent in the service sector, according to Census figures. 

Several websites and groups have popped up over the past month urging states and cities to support Arizona tourism and not get swept up in the furor over the controversial immigration law. 

A Facebook page created by the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, under the title "Don't Boycott AZ Tourism," makes the case that boycotts won't hurt anybody but the "innocent" and minority employees in the state's tourism industry. 

The law "has nothing to do with tourism, but some have decided to make tourism and the many innocent associates that represent this industry a scapegoat," the page says. "The tourism industry is AZ's largest employer of minorities. Of all industries -- why attack the one (who's) doing it right?" 

Hispanic workers, in Arizona and elsewhere, are particularly vulnerable in the wake of the recession. While high unemployment persists across the country, a study released this month by the Joint Economic Committee found that Hispanic workers are make up a disproportionate amount of the nation's jobless. The unemployment rate for Hispanics was about 3 points higher than the national rate. 

Nationwide, about 12 percent of Hispanic workers are in the leisure and hospitality sector.