The Arizona Boycotts: Unethical and Unjustified

Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Boulder, Boston, St. Paul, Austin, El Paso, Oakland and San Diego have all announced a boycott of Arizona, which stands condemned, in their view, of “violating basic American principles,” “Draconian law enforcement,” “promoting racism,” and “un-American measures.” All this, for announcing that the state is going to enforce a law long on the books that the Federal government stubbornly fails to enforce itself.

Almost all boycotts are unethical, and this one doesn’t come close to being fair or reasonable. Boycotts use economic power to bend others to the will of large groups that disagree with conduct or policy, bypassing such niceties as debate, argument, and rational persuasion. They can be effective, but they always depend on causing harm to third-parties, bystanders and others not directly involved in the decision that prompted the boycott, thus creating pressure on decision-makers to change direction based on considerations that have nothing whatsoever to do with the underlying controversy. It is a bullying tactic, and the only way it can pass ethical muster is if the reasons for it are clear, strong, virtuous, undeniable, and based on irrefutable logic that the boycott target is so wrong, and doing such harm, that this extreme measure is a utilitarian necessity.

That argument hasn’t been made by any of the boycotting cities, because it can’t be made. These cities are telling a state how to govern itself, and illegitimately injecting itself into the state’s democratic process. All of them, to various degrees, are wallowing in their own governance messes. San Francisco, speaking of “un-American,” routinely refuses to enforce U.S. law. It has, in Gavin Newsom, perhaps the most arrogantly unethical mayor of any major city. Where does San Francisco get the right to dictate to Arizona? Listen to Seattle’s “reasoning” for its boycott: “Seattle is home to the most diverse zip code in the nation.,” said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn shortly before the boycott vote. “For communities to thrive, we need to uphold basic principles and values of fairness, family and opportunity for all.”  Seattle City Council member Sally Clark chimed in later, saying that the boycott was “a statement of values,” and Council member Nick Licata added that “With this vote, Seattle’s council supports those in Arizona who want real immigration reform through Congress, and not through placing a burden on local police to enforce a law that invites discrimination.”

That’s it? Seattle is telling Arizona the proper way to use its law enforcement resources? How is that any of its business, exactly? Should Arizona boycott Seattle because it thinks Seattle’s property taxes are too high? How does Seattle’s zip code entitle it to harm the citizens of Arizona with an economic boycott?  Exactly how do “basic principles and values of fairness, family and opportunity for all” decree that illegal immigrants have a right to take the benefits of the State of Arizona without going through the legally mandated procedures required for doing so? How does any of this rise to the level of ethical, moral and legal certainty to justify an economic boycott?

The burden of proof is on those who want Arizona to just sit idly by while illegal immigrants over-burden its resources, break its laws and take jobs away from citizens. That burden hasn’t been met.

For all of the attacks and insults heaped on the law, the actual arguments against it have been exemplified by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s reflex condemnation that was unencumbered by actual knowledge. The use of vague, repeated pronouncements rather than actual facts to drive public debate is now, regrettably, the norm. Recent examples include the health care debate and the climate change battle, both dominated by elected officials and pundits expressing certainty regarding matters they knew little or nothing about.   This, however, is worse. Cities are attempting to circumvent democracy based on chants, conventional wisdom, talking points and generalities. A boycott, if it is ever to be justified, has to be based on strong, persuasive arguments, not progressive cant. Where are they? What are they?

In Miami, another city that may soon be joining the mugging of Arizona, a respected columnist presented his defiant “Six Questions For Supporters of the Arizona Law.” The questions method can be a devastating tool of persuasion—George Will, for one, is a master at it— so I was encouraged to see this. At last! Someone was prepared to make some substantive arguments that consisted of more than “it’s un-American!”  The columnist must have given this some thought, after all, and research too. Here were six reasons why the law was wrong, expressed in questions so unanswerable that the justification for all those boycotts would be clear!

Uhhh, no. To say the six questions put forth by Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald were disappointing would be unjust praise. They were mostly embarrassing. Here they are:

1: “Are you aware that the Arizona law turns every Hispanic in Arizona, including U.S. citizens, into a potential suspect? Do you like the idea of police stopping members of the largest U.S. minority group because of the color of their skin, or their Spanish accent?”

In a word, “huh?” The law seeks to identify illegal aliens. U.S. citizens are not “suspects” in the search for illegals. Sometimes investigation and security measures require the questioning or even the searching of law-abiding citizens. This is neither new nor heinous. By Oppenheimer’s inflammatory phrasing, every airplane passenger is a “potential suspect” for terrorism. Gee–I fly a lot, and am wanded and patted down every single time: I don’t feel like a suspect. I feel like a good citizen assisting in national security and law enforcement. It’s annoying, but being blown up would be more annoying.  Part two of the question is typical of this debate, harkening to President Obama’s false “ice cream” hypothetical. The law doesn’t authorize police stops based solely on accents or skin color. No, I don’t like that idea. I don’t like Brussels sprouts, Chow-Chows or the New York Yankees, either. So what? That’s not the law.

2: “Do you know that the stated reason for the Arizona law — a wave of crime brought about by undocumented migrants — is not backed by the state’s official statistics?”

Not to be repetitious, but so what? Arizona doesn’t need that reason to enforce the law of the land. It doesn’t need any reason at all, other than the fact that there is a legal process for immigration, and far too many illegal immigrants are in the state. It’s only the second question, and Oppenheimer is already resorting to nit-picking.

3: “Do you know that the Arizona Police Chiefs Association opposes the law, saying it will drain the state’s law enforcement resources? In addition, undocumented migrants will think twice before giving police tips on crimes or terrorist plots, or before they rescue somebody from a car accident, it says.”

This is the complaint of the police establishment in Arizona and elsewhere. It is a pragmatic, not an ethical or philosophical, consideration, and it is, by its origin, biased by police needs and priorities. Of course police don’t want any more responsibilities. That’s a matter for the State to deal with, in the form of more funds and resources, if it is serious about enforcing the new law. It certainly is none of the business of Los Angeles (now there’s a model police force!) or D.C. (ditto) to tell Arizona how to manage its police force. The second police objection is an expression of a a narrowly parochial point of view. The police are loathe to lose the tips provide by illegals? The illegals shouldn’t be in a position to give tips—they shouldn’t be here at all. It’s an illogical argument. Criminals give the police tips as well. Does this mean getting criminals off the streets should be curtailed in the interest of law enforcement?

4: “Are you aware that Los Angeles and several other U.S. cities have voted to boycott Arizona? Arizona’s tourism board said last week that the boycotts have cost the financially ailing state $90 million already. In addition, Arizona-like laws could cripple the tourism industry of the states that adopt them: Many of the estimated 16 million Latin Americans traveling to the United States every year may decide to skip places where they fear they will be stopped by police because they speak Spanish.”

Does the Guinness Book of Records have a category for most circular argument? The fact that cities across the country are unethically boycotting Arizona on the basis of thin logic and knee-jerk condemnations is itself an argument against the law, according to this question. Arizona shouldn’t enforce the laws against illegal immigration because…a lot of people don’t want them to. Oh.

5: “Do you know that the reason so many migrants enter the United States illegally is because they can’t get in legally? Under the dysfunctional current U.S. immigration system, the U.S. labor market employs up to 500,000 low-skilled workers a year, but the U.S. government only gives 5,000 permanent legal visas a year in that category.”

I love this question! It sums up the intellectual dishonesty of the entire support network for illegals. They have a right to violate immigration laws, see, because we don’t let enough in. Ridiculous. There are plenty of low-skilled workers in the United States already; the illegals simply give U.S. companies a way to pay less money for them. Oppenheimer’s argument here works with any crime, you know. Of course, because those are crimes that the advocates for illegal immigration actually regard as crimes, using it for them sounds silly. “Do you know that the reason so many people rob convenience stores is because the stores won’t give them the money?” “Do you know that the reason so many prisoners are in jail for murder is that you can’t kill people legally?”

6: “Even if you support the Arizona law, is it worth turning the country into a quasi police state, making every member of its largest minority group a suspected criminal, and losing billions of dollars in legal costs and boycotts? Or would it make more sense to update the country’s immigration laws, creating an immigration system that welcomes legal immigrants and discourages illegal ones?”

Enforcing the law doesn’t “turn the country into a quasi-police state.” Many members of America’s largest minority are already suspected criminals, because so many illegal immigrants are in the country that suspicion is both natural and statistically  logical . If there weren’t so many illegal immigrants, nobody would wonder whether Hispanics or Vietnamese were here illegally. The presumption would be that they are—because we would be enforcing the law.  Sure—the immigration system desperately needs fixing. Fixing it on a national level would make mores sense than having the states fighting over it. What is going to make that happen? There is no indication that the government has the courage or the political will to address the problem. At this point, I view the sentiment that Arizona should defer to national immigration reform as a dishonest diversion by open-border advocates who don’t want any true immigration reform at all,  just the absence of immigration enforcement.

There are some legitimate arguments in Oppenheimer’s questions, but not nearly enough to close the case, and certainly not enough to justify any boycotts. The fair approach would be to drop the politically correct posturing, admit that the immigration laws have to be enforced, recognize that the Federal government is not going to enforce them, and see what happens in Arizona before its good faith effort to do something about a growing national crisis is undermined by those who want to take no action at all.

6 thoughts on “The Arizona Boycotts: Unethical and Unjustified

  1. Pingback: The Arizona Boycotts: Unethical and Unjustified |

  2. Wow!

    I don’t know what to say on this one.
    Where to begin? And when to end?

    Boycotts are one of the most legitimate tools in the book, but it seem that you feel it is one to almost never be used.

    And, the argument that those calling for, or initiating the boycott have their own issues means what? You can’t call someone else on the carpet unless you’re Jesus? Please! Unless you bashing gays while being a closeted homosexual that argument is fallacious

    “It is a bullying tactic, and the only way it can pass ethical muster is if the reasons for it are clear, strong, virtuous, undeniable, and based on irrefutable logic that the boycott target is so wrong, and doing such harm, that this extreme measure is a utilitarian necessity.” That is an extremely objective set of criteria—that could be argued both ways

    So, was the Montgomery Bus Boycott unethical?

    What about the international boycott of South Africa during Apartheid?

    Boycotting blood diamonds—ethical or not?

    Honestly, sometimes I think you post positions that you don’t believe in, but know will generate responses. Hopefully, this is one of those times.

    • And an Uzi is a hell of a great weapon, but you better have an awfully good justification for using one. Inflicting millions of dollars of damage on a community that has made a democratic and defensible opinion is not a legitimate boycott. Boycotts used indiscriminately could tear the country apart, wrecking lives and the economy. This isn’t apartheid, which was a human rights outrage, or the Holocaust, which should have been opposed by international boycotts. You cite some examples of (arguably) legitimate boycotts, and think that makes any and every boycott legitimate? Boycotts have been used to censor the radio, and keep revolutionary artists from being heard. They are being used to suppress pure political speech, in the case of Glenn Beck; they have been used by Christian right extremists to force TV programs off the air that were deemed “immoral.” All bullying, all undemocratic.

      A boycott is the atom bomb of protest, and it is being increasingly used by people who simply disagree with something, not something clearly and unequivocally wrong and a violation of human rights, but just controversial. That’s abuse.

      Arizona has a right to make its own laws as long as they comport with basic principles of justice, fairness, and decency. Boycotting a state because opponents of its law THINK (or say) that the law, despite what it actually says, will be used illigitimately is not a valid reason for a boycott. You standrads, which are really no standards at all, would have all the states boycotting each other regardless of fact, fairness, or state distinctions.

      And if you think I write opinions I don’t believe in, then please go away. That’s no argument, its offensive, and in this case it’s especially asinine. I often put out opinions on tough issues where I know there are perfectly good alternative views, because the purpose here is encourage readers to examine conduct critically. Sometimes comments change my mind. In this case, however, as I took a lot of time to explain, if there are legitimate, convincing, good faith reasons to condemn the Arizona law, I haven’t heard, read them, or been able to come up with them. What I hear is a lot of bumper-sticker platitudes from people who are content to let illegal immigrants keep on coming, and to remove any consequences or stigma from the conduct.

      Obviously, boycotting a state when you have nothing but slogans to back it up is wrong. I’ll write about blood diamond boycotts when I decide to. That has nothing to do with this boycott, which, like the vast majority of boycotts, executed or proposed, is unfair and unethical.

      • OK.
        You don’t post opinions you don’t believe in. Got it.

        But, please do not act as thought this method of creating discussion/debate is never used. you don’t use, but it is used by others.

        Was the Montgomery Bus boycott unethical?
        Why or why not? I am only asking because of the blanket disapproval of boycotts being expressed…

  3. Thanks for your courageous and well reasoned article. Boycotts invariably punish unwitting and innocent third-parties, are vigilante inspired – mob rule by any other name – and are rarely warranted. I would agree with the two obvious exceptions cited by the reader above, but these were extreme measures against a transparent evil – the preponderance fail that litmus test – which is patently not the case in Arizona. That will be clear to anyone who actually reads and thinks rationally about the statute.

    This editorial stampede is reminiscent of the rush to judgment during the Clinton scandal when at one point 115 newspapers and 38 political columnists called for his resignation. That sage advice was ignored then and will hopefully be disregarded again, for all of our sakes.

  4. I said almost all boycotts are unethical, and that is true. It is extra-legal coercion, and that is usually unjustified. Of course the Montgomery public transit boycott was justified. It was a straight-up violation of the Constitution that Alabama refused to stop, and the Federal government wasn’t acting either. And I think that the Hiroshima bomb was ethical defensible, and the Nagasaki bomb was not.

    This is an ethics blog, and I don’t have the luxury of using dishonesty and insincerity to promote it. Right or wrong, I mean what I write when I write it. Sometimes I write an opinion that turns out to be half-baked, and then I have to fix it. Not this time.

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