Opponents of Ga. immigration law clash over boycotts

Activists fighting Georgia’s tough new immigration enforcement law revealed this week that they are sharply divided over whether to support economic boycotts targeting the state.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia and the Latinos in Information Sciences & Technology Association announced their opposition to boycotts Friday, saying they could hurt Hispanics who work in the state’s tourism industry.

On the other side, organizations that advocate for immigrants -- including Cuentame and Southerners on New Ground -- have encouraged businesses and conventioneers to cancel their trips to Georgia because of House Bill 87. Other opponents of the new law have created Facebook pages calling for boycotts aimed at the state.

Meanwhile, activists confirmed this week that they are weighing whether to target specific Georgia companies for boycotts, including Aflac, Coca-Cola Co., Delta Air Lines and Home Depot.

For a glimpse of what could happen here, both sides could look to Arizona, which enacted a similar bill targeting illegal immigration last year. In all, the Grand Canyon State has lost about 40 conventions amid economic boycotts inspired by its new law, according to the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association. One estimate says the lost bookings have cost Arizona $141 million. Numerous cities and counties have targeted Arizona with economic boycotts as well.

Like Arizona’s law, Georgia’s HB 87 authorizes police to investigate the immigration status of suspects. Georgia’s law also punishes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or use fake identification to get a job here.

Supporters of the measure say Georgia needs to take immediate action because the federal government has failed to secure the nation’s borders, allowing illegal immigrants to burden this state’s public schools, hospitals and jails. Opponents say Georgia’s new law will promote racial profiling and damage the state’s economy by scaring away migrant workers and conventioneers.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, strongly condemned HB 87 at his association's annual breakfast Friday morning. Hours later, he issued a statement from GALEO, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia and the Latinos in Information Sciences & Technology Association that opposes boycotts.

"A boycott would devastate Georgia's tourism and convention industry," Gonzalez said. "Many Latinos and immigrants depend on this, and other industries, for their livelihood."

Delta and Coca-Cola have donated to GALEO, Gonzalez confirmed Friday, and Rudy Beserra, vice president of Latin affairs for Coca-Cola North America, serves on GALEO’s board. Those issues did not factor into GALEO’s decision to oppose boycotts, Gonzalez said.

After Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 87 into law this month, Southerners on New Ground -- a group that represents minorities, immigrants, gays, lesbians and bisexual and transgendered people -- called for boycotts.

“We are calling on all businesses, conventions, and conferences to cancel your trips to the state of Georgia and pledge to not spend one dollar here until this law is repealed,” Paulina Hernandez of Southerners on New Ground said in a news release. “We are also putting the nation on alert that there may be soon a Georgia products boycott as well -- so stay alert and be prepared to stay away from businesses such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, and Aflac Insurance.”

In an interview, Hernandez criticized Coca-Cola for contributing to Deal’s gubernatorial election campaign last year. Deal campaigned on bringing an Arizona-style law to Georgia.

Coca-Cola issued a statement, saying “calling for boycotts is not productive."

“Consumer boycotts hurt the local economy, local businesses and local employees,” Coca-Cola spokesman Charlie Sutlive said. “In Georgia, we produce, sell and distribute beverages, employing more than 9,000 local associates and fueling the local economy. Everyone along our value chain is affected by a boycott.”

Aflac declined to comment for this article. A Home Depot spokesman said his company was not involved in the debate over HB 87 and did not lobby on the bill. Delta said it would be unable to comment Friday.

One group -- the U.S. Human Rights Network -- has already announced it will cancel plans to hold its annual conference in Atlanta because of HB 87.

Moments after signing HB 87 into law last week, Deal told reporters the costs of illegal immigration for Georgia “far outweigh any of the dangers that may be threatened by boycotts.”

“But that is not to say we want or that even we expect” boycotts, he said. “We think our state is a great state. It is open. It is friendly. That is what has made us a great place to do business. And we certainly will continue to welcome those who want to come here.”

Staff writers Jeremiah McWilliams, J. Scott Trubey and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.