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L.A. County votes to boycott Arizona over immigration law

By a 3-2 vote, the board moves to suspend travel, terminate contracts and divest bonds. The public speaks out on both sides of the issue.

June 02, 2010|By Garrett Therolf and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

By a 3-2 vote the board moves to suspend county-funded travel to the state, possibly terminate contracts with Arizona-based companies, and divest the county pension fund of Arizona state and municipal bonds. Residents attending the meeting spoke out on both sides of the issue.

After heated debate, Los Angeles County supervisors voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to boycott Arizona in response to the passage of its controversial illegal immigration law, a decision that came the same day the Los Angeles Unified School District condemned the law.

"This law simply goes too far," said Supervisor Gloria Molina, the primary sponsor of the county boycott. "A lot of people have pointed out that I am sworn as an L.A. County supervisor to uphold the Constitution. All I can say is that I believe that Arizona's law is unconstitutional."

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Molina to back the boycott, which was opposed by Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe.

"We need solutions, not boycotts," Antonovich said.

Ridley-Thomas was the last to announce his position and was the focus of much of the public comment, drawing dozens of people on both sides of the issue.

Among the speakers against the boycott were family members of Jamiel Shaw II, a 17-year-old football player who was recruited by Stanford and Rutgers before he was shot to death in 2008. Pedro Espinoza, a member of the 18th Street gang who was in the U.S. illegally, has been charged with murder in the case. He had been released from jail a day before the shooting after serving time for another offense.

"I was coming here thinking what can I say to touch their hearts? But you don't have one," Tommie Shaw, Shaw's grandmother, told the supervisors.

The boycott suspends county-funded travel to Arizona unless the county's chief executive determines that county interests would be seriously harmed. It also calls for a report within two weeks on how the county might terminate contracts with Arizona-based companies and orders the divestiture of Arizona state and municipal bonds by the county's pension fund.

The county's auditor-controller estimated that the county has spent about $122 million over the last five years on Arizona goods and services.

The Arizona law requires police to determine the immigration status of anyone they lawfully stop and then suspect is in the country illegally.

It also makes it a state crime to lack proper immigration papers. Top U.S. Justice Department officials have drafted a legal challenge asserting that Arizona's law is unconstitutional because it impinges on the federal government's authority to police the nation's borders.

L.A. Unified school board members, whose district is about 73% Latino students, a third of whom are learning English, on Tuesday unanimously condemned Arizona's law.

"It's very important for us to take a position of outrage," said school board member Yolie Flores. "Because of the color of your skin and the accent you speak with, you will be targeted. You will be asked if you belong here … Taking a position against that kind of racism is appropriate."

District officials also targeted an Arizona bill that, in the words of the resolution, "prohibits public schools from teaching ethnic studies, a ban that further reinforces the intolerant, discriminatory and racist philosophy embodied" in the immigration measure.

The measure stopped short of an immediate economic boycott. Instead, it directed schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to recommend "additional steps … to curtail any economic support" to Arizona in the firm of district-sponsored employee travel or contracts with firms based in the state.

"Our students our dramatically affected by this," said school board member Steve Zimmer. "It has caused a great deal off stress, uncertainty, questions that are brought into the classroom every day."

The resolution also called on Cortines to ensure that civics and history classes discuss the Arizona laws "in the context of the American values of unity, diversity and equal protection for all."

"There's a conversation in this country around the rights of people, and students are a part of it," said school board President Monica Garcia.

The issue would, in essence, be dealt with in a manner similar to broadly accepted episodes of racial and cultural intolerance and abridgements of rights, such as the Jim Crow laws and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, said district spokesman Robert Alaniz.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

howard.blume@latimes.com

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