06/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Blanket Boycotts Won't Achieve Social Justice

Like most Americans, I believe Arizona overreached with its racial profiling immigration bill. As infuriating as the law is, the rush to condemn Arizona has included certain inexcusable tactics we should deplore and calls for condemnation that we should explore before jumping in with a blanket boycott.

Most Americans agree that we should bring immigrants out of the shadows, where they are exploited by employers driving down community wages for unskilled laborers, abused by human traffickers and gangbangers, and unable to assert their basic human rights for fear that others will report and deport them. The way forward is a solution between amnesty and removal: a policy that secures our borders and offers a conditional path to citizenship that includes getting in line behind legal immigrants, paying taxes and fees, starting to learn English, and being of good behavior. This is the essence of the bi-partisan Kennedy-McCain and Schumer-Graham proposals, and the best way forward for our oldest and newest Americans. The Arizona law takes this fight in the wrong direction -- it is constitutionally suspect in allowing stops based upon the appearance of non-citizenship, and conspicuously lax on penalties for false claims or racial profiling.

When something as blatantly offensive as the Arizona law is passed, the first instinct is to strike back -- hard -- with equal force. But our first instincts are not always our best instincts. Swastikas smeared on windows and water bottles tossed at police won't do. We must encourage peaceful protest and respectful dialog if we are to overcome our differences. Each of us who deplored the US Capitol protests with Nazi symbols and insults hurled at African American and openly gay Members of Congress by tea party activists must deplore intolerance at the Arizona Capitol with equal vigor.

As a Californian who has enjoyed family visits and cactus league baseball in Arizona, I am concerned that some of my city and state's elected officials are calling for blanket boycotts without publicly exploring the side effects. Before condemning Arizona, let's consider these elements:

1. What do Arizonans want?
Republicans are driving Latinos into the arms of the Democratic Party - do they want their welcome to be a boycott that punishes their families or an engagement that empowers change? I have heard from people in and out of Arizona who urge boycotts, decry boycotts, and preach caution. I am most interested here in asking whether boycotts punish the very people - such as hotel employees, restaurant wait staff, and taxi drivers - we progressives are trying to support. Many have suggested shielding Latino businesses from a blanket boycott. Why not wait a few days to fully engage immigration allies in Arizona and determine what they want for their state before we decide for them?

2. Must we act right this minute? There were months of negotiations not 3 days before the late 1980s-early 1990s boycott of Arizona after they denied a MLK holiday . Respectful dialog first might be a sign of goodwill, especially among allies. Might there be efforts to elect Democrats in November, place an referendum on the ballot, or estop implementation of the Arizona law before travel bans and cancelled contracts?

3. What if Arizona turned the tables and boycotted us? We have already had to fight House Floor votes to cut off funding for sanctuary cities like San Francisco, such as then-Congressman Tom Tancredo's 2007 amendment banning Department of Homeland Security emergency funds to sanctuary cities in 2007 by a wide margin of 234-to-189. We seek tolerance when San Francisco is singled out - perhaps we should grant the same to Arizonans.

4. Would a boycott escalate the hate? Remember the unhelpful Bill O'Reilly threat to cut off military aid to San Francisco even in response to a terrorist attack after the a ballot measure passed by 60 percent of San Francisco voters urged public high schools and colleges to prohibit on-campus military recruiting? Knowing the powder keg of public sentiment, would a blanket boycott inflame more than it informs?

Perhaps a consideration of all these factors will yield a consensus that condemning Arizona is indeed the approach welcomed by Arizonans, in the fullness of a timely debate, welcomed even by people who would suffer economically, despite the incendiary rhetoric . Perhaps not. We won't know until we ask -- and ask we must. Blanket boycotts won't achieve social justice. As tempting as grandstanding can be, thoughtful research, careful calibration, and respectful dialog are in my opinion more effective tools to achieve a repeal of the Arizona law and enactment of national immigration reform.