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Councilor Arroyo: Arizona ban is a "statement of values"

Yawu Miller | 5/11/2010, 8:17 p.m.
Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo urges his colleagues to send Arizona a strong message on the state’s new law...
Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo urges his colleagues to send Arizona a strong message on the state’s new law allowing police officials to demand citizenship documents of those who they deem are illegal immigrants. Yawu Miller

In a move that observers say may signal a more activist bent in the Boston City Council, councilors voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling on the city to cut business ties to Arizona.

The vote, sponsored by Councilor Felix Arroyo and Council President Michael Ross, came in response to Arizona’s new law requiring police to question people about their immigration status based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they might be undocumented.

The resolution calls on the city to cancel contracts, purchasing agreements and any investments with Arizona businesses.

Although the resolution is nonbinding, Mayor Thomas Menino expressed support for the measure and has reportedly questioned Arizona firms doing business with Boston on whether or not they support the law.

The council’s vote is not unprecedented — New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles are considering similar measures — but it represents a break from the council’s more conservative and locally-focused approach in recent years.

“It’s the responsibility of the City Council to look at our budget and make sure our investments are sound,” Arroyo said. “But it’s also our responsibility to look at where our money is invested. Where you invest your money is a statement of your values.”

The resolution came to a vote after considerable lobbying on both sides of the issue. Conservative talk radio hosts urged listeners to contact the councilors and demand they vote no on the resolution. Arroyo said he and other Councilors were inundated with e-mail messages, many of them from people who do not live in Boston.

At the same time, immigrant rights groups and civil rights activists coordinated constituent phone calls to the councilors in support of the measure.

On the day of the vote, last Wednesday, the council chamber was packed with supporters of the measure. There was no visible opposition to the resolution among councilors or spectators.

Speaking in favor of it were councilors Ross, Arroyo, Ayanna Pressley, Charles Yancey, Chuck Turner and John Connolly. The councilors spoke in support of immigrants’ rights, with many arguing that the Arizona law would lead to unfair targeting of legal immigrants and Latinos.

“We have to take a moment to speak out against the erosion of basic and fundamental civil rights wherever it is,” Ross said.

Turner urged his fellow councilors to look at the issue keeping U.S. foreign policy in mind.

“We need to understand that many, many people who come here are driven out of their countries by policies created in the United States,” said Turner. “We are not going to solve the immigration problem in this country as long as we allow the business community to rape and plunder other countries.”

The measure passed 13-0 by voice vote. Immigrant activists said the vote sent a powerful message to lawmakers in Arizona.

“It’s very important to let the rest of the country know that cities like Boston are supporting immigrants and are denouncing the law in Arizona,” said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente. “For us, as Latino immigrants, it’s very important to know that our elected officials are recognizing our humanity and our dignity.”

Arroyo credited his fellow councilors for the success of the resolution.

“This was a victory for all of us,” he said. “There are 14 elected officials in the city and they all support this.”