Hispanic boycott set for Tuesday
The Arizona Republic
May. 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Don't work, spend, Latinos are asked

Yvonne Wingett and Daniel González


Organizers of a one-day economic boycott protesting proposed laws aimed at undocumented immigrants are urging Latinos not to go to work or spend money on Tuesday.

But many Latinos say they weren't aware of the boycott, despite heavy publicity in local Spanish-language newspapers and radio. Others say they are sympathetic to the cause but can't afford to lose a day of work or are afraid of getting fired, while others say they plan to stay home.

The boycott is the latest in a string of grass-roots protests since November's passage of Proposition 200,a ballot measure intended to ensure undocumented immigrants don't vote or receive certain public benefits.

It is unclear how many people will participate in Tuesday's boycott, but economists say short-term boycotts based on social principles typically have more symbolic than economic impact. At least 20 percent of the metropolitan area's 3.5 million population would have to participate to send an economic message, experts said.

"We're trying to prove we are a vital part of the community, that our workers and our consumers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," said organizer Elias Bermudez, executive director of Centro de Ayuda (Center of Help), a business that helps immigrants prepare immigration and tax documents.

The boycott is in response to dozens of measures pending in the state Legislature intended to make life in Arizona more difficult for undocumented immigrants. If passed and approved by Gov. Janet Napolitano, the measures could restrict the use of Mexican ID cards and require students to pay out-of-state college tuition, among other restrictions.

Jesus Garcia, a drywaller who earns between $80 and $100 a day, said he agrees with the strike in principal. But he can't afford to lose a day's pay, and he feels more committed to his job.

"What these leaders don't understand is that we can't leave our jobs," said Garcia, 33, a Mexican immigrant, as he installed drywall at a house under construction in southwest Phoenix. "We have a responsibility to get the work done."

The Latino workforce drives Arizona's construction, restaurant and hotel industries, though the numbers are unclear, said Harry Garewal, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He estimated the state could lose at least $54 million if all Hispanics closed their wallets and purses for a day.

"I believe it's a start," said Vel Piña, owner of Americano Services in north Phoenix.

"It will make the people think, especially people that employ Hispanic people, what would happen if all these people didn't show up for work all of the sudden."

State Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who is a sponsor of many of the bills, says undocumented immigrants cost Arizona more than they contribute. The boycott will only breed contempt in a state already divided over illegal immigration, he said.

"(Mexico) needs to fix their country and not allow (President) Vicente Fox to export his problems to the United States. No longer can we be the dumping ground for Mexico," Pearce said.

Immigrants, however, see themselves contributing to the state's economy. Francisco Delgado, another drywaller who was working inside the same house as Garcia, said he hadn't heard about the boycott beforehand. But Delgado, a permanent resident, agreed with the boycott's stated goal to demonstrate the economic impact of immigrant workers in Arizona.

Further west on Southern Avenue, another crew of Latino construction workers had just finished framing the last of 180 new houses being built in a tract off 29th Avenue.

All three workers shook their heads no when asked if they had heard about the boycott.

Their supervisor, Jeff Johnston, 32, said the Valley's booming housing market would come to a standstill without Latino workers.

Still, Johnston said he supports laws restricting the lives of undocumented immigrants in Arizona. He recalled a time a decade ago when the construction industry relied mostly on skilled tradesmen who earned a middle-class living.

"It's the cheap labor. Everyone wants it now," Johnston said. "We've smoked for 10 years, and now we got cancer."

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-4712 or yvonne.wingett@arizon