Arizona: Is the New Law Worth a Meetings Boycott?

You all have probably read or seen in the media Arizona’s immigration law, which, among other things, has police officers checking the immigration status of persons in the state under certain circumstances.

As a result of all the negative media attention, many people and groups have decided to boycott Arizona in a number of ways, including not attending or holding conferences in the state— even though a federal judge recently blocked the most controversial aspects of the law.

Read the Law

Most people who are against the new Arizona law have never read it. And even those who may have tried to read it may not have focused on the correct law. The statute itself in final form is hard to find on the Internet.

The reason is that the law was almost immediately amended after it was initially passed. Consequently, there is a great deal of commentary and misinformation on the Internet dealing with what may not be the final version of the legislation.

Among other things, the final law does two things. First, it states that state law enforcement may no longer refuse to enforce existing immigration laws.

Second, the law allows police to confirm whether certain people are lawfully in the country. This is the part of the law that some people claim will lead to racial profiling. What the law says, in essence, is that if a law enforcement official “lawfully stops, detains, or arrests” someone and also has a reasonable suspicion that the person is unlawfully in the United States, the official shall make a reasonable attempt “when practicable” to determine the immigration status of the person, unless doing so would hinder or obstruct the investigation.

Thus, before a person’s immigration status can be checked, the person must first be lawfully stopped, detained, or arrested in accordance with current law, which would normally require probable cause that the person has committed an offence. So, in theory, someone merely walking down the street could not be lawfully stopped. And if law enforcement personnel do not find that it is practicable to do so, they may entirely skip checking the person’s immigration status. And if they do ask for proof of status, the individual may provide a wide number of documents, including simply showing a valid driver’s license.

Moreover, there are several places throughout the new law that state: “A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town . . . may not consider race, color, or national origin in the enforcement of this [law] except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona constitution.

Does a Boycott Make Sense?

Even if your conference registrants hate the new law and believe with their hearts that it is discriminatory, the larger question is whether it makes sense for these potential attendees to boycott Arizona as a way of protesting the law.

In my view, boycotting a meeting in Arizona because you do not like one of its laws is like shooting yourself and those around you in the foot. Indeed, refusing to attend a meeting in Arizona will not hurt the state nearly as much as it will hurt the organization putting on the conference and the hotel workers and other hospitality workers whose livelihoods depend on your business.

Meeting organizers face huge attrition damages and possibly even cancellation damages from a boycott. It is highly unlikely that the force majeure clause or any other clause in the hotel contract will allow you to avoid attrition and cancellation damages that arise from what amounts to a symbolic political protest from your attendees. Additionally, if you are contemplating booking a new meeting in Arizona during the next year, it is highly unlikely that any hotel will allow you to draft a clause in your new contract that allows you to cancel or avoid attrition damages simply because your members may want to boycott the state.

Moreover, many hotel workers in Arizona are the very minorities that people believe are being hurt by the new state law. Instead, lobbying legislators in the state to change the law is the better approach.

Ben Tesdahl, Esq. is an attorney concentrating in nonprofit, corporate, tax, and contract law, including meeting and convention law. He is with the law firm of Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville, P.C. in Washington, DC. He can be reached at (202) 466-6550 or at [email protected].