No boycotts yet over new immigration law || OnlineAthens.com.
Almost two weeks after Gov. Nathan Deal signed a controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants, threats of boycotts have yet to materialize.
Civil rights groups and lawmakers who opposed the immigration law, House Bill 87, predicted that corporations, consumers and convention-goers would spurn Georgia because of the backwards image it created.
Arizona lost $217 million in convention business when it enacted a similar law last year, according to the Center for American Progress, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C.
So far, though, dire economic forecasts for Georgia have been mere sound and fury.
“I haven’t heard about any boycotts at all,” said state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens. “I had heard the threats, but not so much locally.”
No one has canceled any conventions over the law in Athens, where tourism is a $200 million-a-year industry, local officials said.
“I honestly wondered about that, just because there’s a lot of talk about it right now,” said Chuck Jones, executive director of the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I have yet to hear anyone bring it up or question it.”
Nor has Matt Forshee, CEO of the Athens-Clarke Economic Development Foundation and the county’s chief industry recruiter.
“I have not heard that comment with the projects I’m working on,” Forshee said.
Most of the conventions and trade shows at the Classic Center are put on by Georgia organizations that are required to hold them in-state, Classic Center Executive Director Paul Cramer said. A boycott would be more likely to hurt Atlanta and Savannah, cities that draw larger regional and national conventions, he said.
The Atlanta CVB opposed the law out of concern that a boycott could hurt the city’s convention business.
The U.S. Human Rights Network announced earlier this month that it would not hold its 600-person biannual convention in Atlanta this year.
But the Atlanta-based nonprofit had not actually booked any space, and no other groups have canceled plans to hold events in Atlanta since, Atlanta CVB spokeswoman Lauren Jarrell said.
Gov. Nathan Deal, who pledged on the campaign trail last year to enact an Arizona-style immigration law, signed HB 87 on May 11.
It requires most employers to check whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States and empowers local law enforcement agencies to ask suspects about their immigration status.
State Rep. Keith Heard, D-Athens, was among those who voted against the law, in part because he feared the state would appear anti-Hispanic to the national and international business communities.
“What kind of signal are we sending?” he said.
The bill drew protests, especially from civil rights groups, students and farmers who use migrant workers to harvest row crops.
Somos Georgia, a Hispanic advocacy group, called for a boycott of conventions, conferences, entertainment, sporting events, vacations and business travel to Georgia unless Deal vetoed HB 87. Somos Georgia did not return a call seeking comment, but argues on its website that the law would split up families, and residents who were brought to Georgia as children and lived here most of their lives would be unfairly deported.
“We are calling on all businesses, conventions and conferences to cancel your trips to the state of Georgia and pledge to not spend one dollar here until this law is repealed,” Paulina Hernandez of an affiliated group, Southerners on New Ground, said in a news release. “We are also putting the nation on alert that there may be soon a Georgia products boycott as well – so stay alert and be prepared to stay away from businesses such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and AFLAC Insurance.”
Reaction to the law also split the Hispanic community. The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials rejected calls for a boycott on Friday.
GALEO remains opposed to the law, but a boycott would be counterproductive, Executive Director Jerry Gonzalez said.
“A boycott would devastate Georgia’s tourism and convention industry,” he said. “Many Latinos and immigrants depend on this, and other industries, for their livelihood.”
However, Gonzalez still predicted pain for the state’s economy as a result of the law.
“I would expect so, considering the heightened concern we’ve heard,” he said.
Cowsert had no qualms about the economic impact when he voted in favor of the law, he said.
“The potential loss of revenue would be minuscule compared to the cost of education, health care, prisons, the corrections system for 400,000-plus illegal immigrants in this state,” he said.