Panel: Take steps to cope with SB 1070's fallout - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Panel: Take steps to cope with SB 1070's fallout

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Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 2:12 pm | Updated: 5:49 pm, Thu Jul 1, 2010.

The state's tourism industry has come up with the answer to fighting the boycotts in the wake of the new immigration law: better public relations.

In a report released Wednesday, the Governor's Tourism and Economic Development Task Force said there's no need to "reposition" Arizona's brand and image. That was one of the questions the governor gave the group to study following a sharp drop-off of business.

But what the group found is necessary is convincing people - and especially groups that book conventions - that it is safe to come to Arizona, that they won't be kidnapped and they won't be forced to produce identification or face deportation.

To that end, the task force wants a fact sheet to "clarify facts and misconceptions" about SB 1070. And the report says a public relations specialist needs to be hired - using $250,000 in public funds and $30,000 from the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association - to take that message to select markets, including major U.S. cities as well as Mexico and elsewhere.

But Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the hotel group, said that message is being undermined by public officials explaining why Arizona needs to crack down on illegal immigration.

"The information that we're giving to support 1070 in our state is that there's massive crime happening here and (we're the) kidnapping capital," Jarnagin said. "And those don't help tourism, either."

That includes Gov. Jan Brewer who has talked openly about crime she said is linked to illegal immigrants. "They're coming here and they're bringing drugs and they're doing drop houses and they're extorting people and they're terrorizing the families," the governor said in a debate earlier this month.

The report comes as the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday issued an advisory about traveling to Arizona for the upcoming July 4 weekend.

Alessandra Meetze, president of the Arizona chapter, said affiliates from 32 states are not telling people to stay away. What they are doing, she said, is telling those who intend to travel to Arizona they need to be informed of their rights.

"They should know the political realities on the ground and the social realities on the ground," she said. "They should know that we have a state with a long history of profiling."

She also said her office has been getting an increasing number of complaints from people believe they are being targeted by police and asked for additional identification, even though SB 1070 does not take effect until July 29.

The law requires police to question those they have stopped about their immigration status if there is "reasonable cause" to believe they are in this country illegally. It also allows police to charge illegal immigrants with violating state trespassing laws.

State Tourism Director Sherry Henry said she won't respond to the advisory. Instead, she said the job of her agency - as well as the recommendations of the task force on which she served - is to instead "tell the positive message" that "Arizona is still all the wonderful things it's always been."

That, however, remains an ongoing problem in the wake of the new immigration law.

Jarnagin said the decisions by lawmakers to pass the bill and the governor to sign it has affected not so much individual decisions to vacation in Arizona but choices that organizations make when deciding where to book their next meeting or convention.

Initially, Jarnagin said, the cancellations were from groups wanting to take a stand against SB 1070.

"But what we're hearing now, moving forward, is a lot of the meetings are bypassing Arizona because they just don't want to be associated with the controversy," Jarnagin said. "If you're going to book a meeting in the next year or two, three years, you want to have every possible thing on your side to get people to attend your meetings." Jarnagin said SB 1070 - or at least the attention being paid to that - convinces meeting planners it would be just as easy to go somewhere else.

She said the purpose of the new campaign is to dispel all that.

For example, Jarnagin said one goal will be to show those who plan meetings that the groups which have decided to come to Arizona anyway have not seen a drop in attendance. But she said it ultimately will come down to dispelling the image of Arizona as an unsafe place to be.

"We are not all hateful people. We are a friendly state," she said. "You're not going to be unnecessarily harassed when you come here. You're not going to be stopped as a visitor for the color of your skin and deported ... for no reason, on a whim."

And there needs to be a distinction for would-be visitors about crime related to illegal immigration and crime overall, like the state's reputation for having more kidnappings than anywhere else.

"People in Canada don't understand that if you're not part of the drug cartel, you're OK," she said. "We're talking about drop houses which you're not going to be encountered with if you're visiting one of our lovely resorts."

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