Boycott measure takes aim at Arizona law [updated]
June 1, 2010
A sharply divided Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a Los Angeles County boycott of Arizona—potentially halting millions of dollars in contracts and investments to protest the state’s controversial new illegal immigration law.
The Arizona law, which requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally, has become an international lightning rod. Tuesday’s vote turned the Hall of Administration meeting room into a forum for the array of divergent viewpoints that have sprung up since it was signed into law.
That was clear when, moments after the vote, one section of the audience chanted “yes we can,” while another shouted “shame on you.”
The board’s 3-2 vote was based on a motion by Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, who expressed concerns that the Arizona law, set to take effect next month, will lead to “widespread racial profiling and will subject many ‘foreign-looking’ persons and persons of color—including countless U.S. citizens, legal residents, visiting business persons and tourists—to unlawful interrogations, searches, seizures and arrests.”
During their remarks before the vote, Molina and Yaroslavsky both said they conceivably could find themselves unjustly placed under scrutiny in Arizona.
“You only have to look at me to know that I’m one of those individuals who would have a heck of a tough time in Arizona,” Molina said.
Yaroslavsky argued that anyone whose name sounds foreign, like his, or has an accent, could “be ripe for questioning” if they’re pulled over in the desert, forced to provide a birth certificate or passport to prove their citizenship. “That’s nonsense,” he said. “That’s unconstitutional.”
Joining Yaroslavsky and Molina in approving the motion was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who did not discuss his views on Arizona’s law or on the merits of the board’s action. Rather, he said simply he’d let his vote speak for itself. Later, in a press release he said he voted for the boycott to help “bring an end to this civil rights crisis and restore fairness under the law.”
Voting against the measure were Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich, who last week called the proposed boycott “stupid.” On Tuesday, Antonovich argued that Arizona was forced into action because the federal government had failed to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. “The state of Arizona has said out loud: the emperor has no clothes,” Antonovich said.
Knabe, meanwhile, criticized his colleagues for spending time on an issue that, he said, was irrelevant to the needs of L.A. county residents.
The measure instructs staff to report back in two weeks on how—and how soon—the county might legally end its contracts with Arizona companies without harming the county’s interests. It orders a similar review of investments in Arizona securities held by the county and by the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA.)
A preliminary study by the Auditor Controller’s Office indicates that Los Angeles County agencies have spent $121.3 million over the past five years on goods and services from companies with Arizona addresses. The contracts range in size from a few hundred dollars to many millions, providing the county with everything from Taser guns to landscaping products to waste hauling.
The extent of county contracts in Arizona—including whether the companies are truly based in that state—is still being researched, with a final tally yet to come.
Among the largest expenditures was the nearly $14.8 million paid to Tucson-based Sunquest Information Systems since fiscal 2005. “We do value the business we do in Los Angeles County and we want to continue to do business with our partners in the county,” Kelly Feist, vice president of marketing for the laboratory testing and technology company, said Tuesday.
Feist added that while the company is based in Arizona, it also has offices in North Carolina, England and India. “Most of our employees reside outside of the state of Arizona,” she said.
As for investments, the county holds no stock in Arizona-based companies or in Arizona state or municipal bonds, said Doug Baron, a division chief for the Treasurer Tax Collector, a department that oversees the county’s $25 billion investment portfolio. Baron said the county portfolio does contain “commercial paper”—short term money-market notes issued by banks and corporations—issued by companies that do business in Arizona. It may also hold commercial paper on Arizona-based companies, Baron said Tuesday.
Under the measure, county travel to Arizona also will be suspended unless the trip would “seriously harm the county’s interests,” and directs departments whenever possible to refrain from entering into new contracts with businesses in the state as long as the law is in effect.
In addition to putting a financial squeeze on Arizona, the boycott measure seeks to exert political and legal pressure. It instructs the county’s Chief Executive Officer to send a letter to elected officials in Arizona opposing the law and directs the County Counsel to file a brief in U.S. District Court supporting litigation that challenges the law’s constitutionality.
In addition, it directs the county’s federal legislative advocates to lobby against the use of federal funds to support implementation of the Arizona law.
The supervisors’ action comes after the Los Angeles City Council last month banned most city travel to Arizona and future contracts with firms located in the state. The city’s partial boycott did not, however, cancel all of the city’s contracts with Arizona companies.
The vote came after a parade of speakers testified on both sides of the issue, prompting some vocal responses from the small but engaged audience. Molina, the board’s chair, repeatedly admonished the audience to stop interrupting the speakers.
Those testifying Tuesday ranged from Sheriff Lee Baca (who opposes the Arizona law) to the family of Jamiel Shaw Jr., killed in 2008 by an illegal immigrant gang member, who told the board they support the Arizona law and oppose L.A. County’s boycott.
Implementing the first stage of L.A. County’s economic boycott of Arizona, Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka has directed departments to end travel to the state, unless approved by his office, and to avoid entering into new contracts or amending existing ones with Arizona-based contractors.
In the directive, Fujioka says the county is readying a final list of current contracts with Arizona firms as a step toward determining which of them may be legally terminated without causing the county undue harm.