Latino community split over economic boycott

Watch a video on the boycott here.

Story by ROBERT CALLISTER

A call for a business boycott this week has divided the Latino community and its leaders. Some Latinos believe that it will not have the desired effect of showing the community their economic power.

Utah Latinos began a two-week business boycott on Monday with the intent to show the community the impact they have on the economy. There were numerous debates and protests on Capitol Hill regarding several controversial immigration bills during this year’s 45-day legislative session.

The boycott’s chief organizer, Jose “Pepe” Gutierrez, believes the boycott will show there is a human element to the issue of immigration. Various immigration enforcements and verification of employment status bills left immigrants confused and even angry.

“We are not going to buy anything for 15 days,” Gutierrez, president of the Utah Hispanic Latino Coalition, said Thursday. Boycott organizers have also urged Latinos to withdraw money out of their respective banks.

The Latino community was left divided as result of the call to boycott.

Michael Clara, state chairman of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, said he felt many positive things resulted from the 2011 legislative session. He went on to say that there is not much support for the boycott even within the Latino community.

“I’m not understanding what the purpose of the boycott is,” Clara said. “I guess it would be to express some anger. But I think we should be celebrating the success.”

House Bill 466 will create a pilot program with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to allow migrant workers to come to Utah with nonimmigrant U.S. visas. This would seem like a pretty substantial win for the Latino community.

But not all are satisfied with this legislative session’s results.

“We feel we need to do something to attract attention to the fact that we’re unhappy and an integral part of this state,” said Utah La Raza Chairman Archie Archuleta.

Supporters of the boycott oppose House Bill 497, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they arrest for felonies and serious misdemeanors. Officers may also check the status of those suspected of less serious misdemeanors.

Jonathon Rothwell is a senior economic analyst for the Brookings Institute and co-writes the Mountain Monitor, which tracks metropolitan areas in the intermountain region. His research shows Salt Lake City lost roughly 18,000 jobs in construction related industries from 2007 to 2010.

Rothwell said that the roughly 21,000 Latino construction workers were hit especially hard during the recession.

“So, at a time when Latinos have already been hit disproportionately hard by the recession. Utah legislatures are trying to make life even more difficult for them. The remarkable thing is how calm and reasonable their demands are under the circumstances.”

However, not all of the Latino community is convinced the boycott will work in their advantage.

Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said the boycott is misguided. He believes it will not have the desired effect.

“The business community and the Chamber of Commerce stepped up to the plate this year,” Yapias said. “They signed the Utah Compact and the Salt Lake Chamber did an excellent job of stepping up and to now call for a boycott is like slapping them in the face after all they did to help us. Those pushing the boycott aren’t seeing the big picture.”

The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the state come from Mexico. Estimates are at nearly 110,000 people.

Citizens that have nationalized and emigrated from Mexico own 1,834 businesses in Utah. These establishments account for $227 million in sales yearly, according to a recent letter several Utah economists distributed through the Salt Lake Chamber.

Mexican immigrants own $984 million worth of property in the state and have over $1 billion in purchasing power.

Sam Greener works at the Whole Foods Market in Sugar House, Utah. He has not seen a big impact as result of the boycotts.

“To be honest, I did not even know that there was a boycott going on,” he said. “I can see it affecting other businesses a little more, but there really has not been a huge impact here.”

Pam Perlich, professor of economics at the University of Utah, said full participation in the boycott could be very destructive to Utah’s economy. However, she said the boycott would have to have widespread and even national support for this magnitude of impact to occur.

The boycott has hundreds of supporters and will continue for the next 10 days.