Austin unanimously passes AZ boycott

Staff Writer

Austin News

May 17, 2010

Opposition to new law gains strength in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) - In a unanimous decision, the Austin City Council passed a ban Thursday morning on travel to and business with Arizona in protest of a new immigration law in that state.

"I'm concerned that if they go to Arizona, as far as we know, we can't tell for sure that they'll be subjected to harassment and even the potential for false arrest," said councilmember Bill Spelman. "I'd like to be able to maintain their security by sending them elsewhere."

Austin became the latest in a growing list of cities that are boycotting Arizona in some capacity to protest the law, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires local law enforcement to ask for documentation from people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Spelman said the city had 45 trips to Arizona last year, in which they spent about $50,000. And while he said that is not a lot of money, Spelman also said it's $50,000 they could be spending someplace else.

Some Austinites like the idea, saying it will hurt some Arizona businesses that won't benefit from the City of Austin's business travels and the money spent while there.

"I am in support of the ban, the resolution, because it is discriminatory what's happening in Arizona," said Gus Pena.

The council convened at 10 a.m. Thursday, taking up a resolution Austin Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez first proposed two weeks ago.

The Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition showed up at the meeting in support of the city's proposed resolution.

"We believe it's an assault on the civil liberties of Latinos in the state of Arizona," said Caroline Keating, of the coalition. "We will do everything to make sure something similar does not happen in this state."

The drafted proposal came as some Texas lawmakers promise to propose similar leglsiation in Texas next year, and opposition is mounting in Austin, Dallas and other cities.

On Wednesday, City Manager Marc Ott sent a memo to the council regarding Austin's business in Arizona. In the past year, city officials made 45 trips to Arizona at a cost of $42,898. The trips were made by officials from departments including Austin Energy, police and water department.

"The City will be sending 5 employees to Arizona for 3 separate events during the month of May," the memo says. "Commitments to the trips were made prior to the passage of the Arizona immigration law."

The memo also says that the city "has no contracts or investments" with the state of Arizona.

San Francisco and Los Angeles have both passed resolutions banning official travel to and business with Arizona, and encouraging residents to show their displeasure with the law by boycotting it as well.

The new law allows police to ask for documentation of citizenship if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally. The law does not define "reasonable suspicion." Opponents of the law, signed last week, say that among other things, it gives police license to harass minorities who lawful citizens but who may not carry around proof of citizenship in their normal routine.

While Spelman said the primary concern is City employees' safety, he said the decision also comes with a message.

"I'm sure it will also send a message that we think this is a mistake," he said. "It's bad for the Arizona economy and terrible for Arizona law enforcement, and it's just the wrong direction for us to be going in as a country."

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