Ask the Expert: Angela Maria Kelley on the economic effects of Arizona's immigration law

How is Arizona's immigration law affecting its economy?

Arizona's immigration law is affecting its economy in profound ways. Our organization just issued a study that looked at the decrease in conferences and conventions in Arizona. Conferences that were booked and were going to happen, and then the law passed, and they were canceled. Conferences where the phone call was never made to book it in the first place because it's felt to be a hostile place now. And these are real dollars, these just aren't hurt feelings. But it's $217 million that's been lost in direct spending of conference attendees who are not there, who aren't there to spend money. And this means that the taxpayers in Arizona are the ones who are losing.

How long could these effects last?

It's a good question and no one really knows how long the effects could last. But here's what we do know: The attention that the immigration issue brings isn't going away. The Arizona law is tied up in the courts and every time there's a court decision that might even be made, the press is all over it. There are 25 states that are considering similar laws. Each time any one of those statehouses begins to move a law, there's going to be a lot of attention to it. And this is something that's just a loser for states. It may be like a tempting, shiny apple, but don't take a bite of it because it's poisonous. And that's really the message of this report. To states that rely on conferences and convention—Florida, Colorado, Texas—this is a bad path to go down. Not only does it not solve illegal immigration but it actually hurts the citizens of your state. At a time when economies are so fragile, the last thing we need to do is take a law like this and knock those economies off the track that we hope that they're on.

What should other state legislatures take away from Arizona's experience?

I think other state lawmakers need to be very cautious and they should pause before they hit the "send" button if they want to try to move an Arizona-like law forward. Any state lawmaker needs to think in a smart way about what's in the best interests for his or her state. What's going to take a fragile economy and make it stronger? It is not passing an Arizona-like law. An Arizona-like law will only result in reduced revenue, reduced spending, fewer jobs, fewer taxes being paid. It's exactly the wrong direction to go in. We need to grow economies and make them stronger. To be caught up in the politics of the immigration debate is bad business and it's a bad economic strategy for any state.