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Arizona's new immigration law becomes an issue in Major League Baseball

A congressman calls for the league to pull next year’s All-Star game out of the state and protesters show up at Diamondbacks’ game against Cubs in Chicago.

April 29, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

Anger over Arizona's new immigration law spread to baseball Thursday with a congressman's call to pull next year's All-Star game out of the state and a protest outside Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the Arizona Diamondbacks were playing the Cubs.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said baseball "should not pass up the opportunity" to oppose legislation critics believe will lead to racial profiling and other civil-rights violations.

"Baseball and the Latin community, it's a close relationship," Serrano said in a telephone interview. "Latinos, they will be the ones, more than anyone else, who will be stopped on the street in violation of their constitutional rights.

"This is such a mean thing to do that people who make those decisions, states who make those decisions, need to know that there are consequences to those decisions."

The law, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last week, makes it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally and requires police to check suspects for immigration paperwork. The state is home to an estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants.

The legislation, which also bars people from soliciting work or hiring day laborers off the street, is scheduled to go into effect 90 days after Arizona's current legislative session ends, probably next month.

A spokesman for Major League Baseball, which awarded the 2011 All-Star game to Phoenix a year ago, said Commissioner Bud Selig would not comment on the issue.

Pulling baseball's annual showcase out of Phoenix could cost the state more than $40 million, a baseball spokesman estimated. Arizona lost out on playing host to another treasured sporting event when the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl away from Tempe after the state rescinded the federal holiday commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. Since voters reinstated the holiday, two Super Bowls have been played in Arizona.

Serrano said issues such as immigration and racial profiling should be important to baseball because 27% of the players on opening-day rosters were born outside the U.S.

"These are the folks that would be walking down the streets and have their rights violated," he said. "Baseball is so much a part of that family that is being attacked by this new law that baseball should make a statement about it."

Serrano said he may reach out to club owners and even eventually ask players to boycott the All-Star game if the law is implemented and the game remains in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, a coalition of immigrant-rights groups in Arizona called for protests and boycotts wherever the Diamondbacks play. The first rally took place before Thursday afternoon's game at Wrigley Field, where one fan ripped up his ticket rather than watch the game.

"With this being right in our backyard, it's hard not to go out and say something when the bill is so egregious," said Fiona McEntee, a Chicago-based immigration lawyer who attended the protest.

Organizers of the boycott, who have received promises of support from organizers in five states the Diamondbacks will visit this season, say they targeted the team for its visibility and because owner Ken Kendrick is a major financial backer of Republican politicians who promoted the bill.

"For the Kendrick family to support people who are engaged in this kind of repression against a segment of the population without actually supporting other efforts, that's why they're a target," said Tony Herrera of Unidos en Arizona.

The Diamondbacks issued a statement acknowledging Kendrick's support of Republican candidates in the past but noting his personal opposition to the new law.

Herrera said the coalition is not contemplating actions against any of the other 14 teams that have spring training or player-development facilities in Arizona, a group that includes both the Angels and Dodgers. Spring training, the six-team Arizona Fall League and the 12-team Arizona League combine for an estimated half-billion dollars in economic activity.

Through a team spokesman, Angels owner Arte Moreno, an Arizona native and the first Latino to own a major sports franchise in the U.S., declined to comment. But some players and coaches did speak out.

"I don't know about boycotting the All-Star game, but that's not a cool law if that's the case," Cubs slugger Derrek Lee said.

Asked what players should do, he said: "We can express our disagreement. That's not right. It's surprising that it's that blatant."

Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, who was born in Venezuela and became a U.S. citizen in 2006, said the law showed "no respect of human rights."

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