WASHINGTON — Two or three times a week, truck driver Jesus Serrano hauls loads of Mexican-grown produce from warehouses in Nogales, Ariz., which is just across the U.S.-Mexico border, to distribution centers in Los Angeles.
Serrano plans to stop making the trip now that Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a stringent anti-illegal immigration bill into law, however, and he's recruited other truckers to join him.
Serrano, the independent owner-operator of a Los Angeles-based trucking company, said that about 70 drivers based in California and Arizona had agreed to stop moving loads into or out of Arizona in protest of the new law. He hopes to get 200 truckers on board for a five-day boycott that will start within 48 hours of the bill's signing.
Brewer signed the bill Friday, over protests from groups that are concerned about potential racial profiling and other issues. The Arizona Senate had passed the measure Monday after the state House of Representatives OK'd it last week.
The law will require police to check the immigration status of anyone they have "reasonable suspicion" to think might be in the country illegally.
As a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent, Serrano said, he was disturbed when he heard last week that the Arizona House had passed the bill. He began talking to other independent truckers who drive the Nogales-to-Los Angeles circuit, and they planned the boycott over CB radios, on cell phones and at truck stops, Serrano said.
"We're Hispanic; we're Mexican. We've been saying, 'Are we going to be getting stopped on our way to the store when we're walking to get lunch somewhere?' " Serrano said.
About 40 percent of the Mexican-grown produce that's consumed in North America comes through Nogales, according to Amy Adams, a spokeswoman with the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. Serrano said that a revolt among independent truckers would create backlogs in moving that produce out of Nogales warehouses.
However, Collin Stewart, the chairman of the Arizona Trucking Association, hadn't heard of the boycott plans and said he wouldn't expect what he described as a "CB radio revolt" by independent owner-operators to affect distribution significantly.
"I would not imagine there would be any kind of major reduction in the flow or volume of freight," he said. "Usually these things are relegated to a small group of individuals. The immigration debate is a hot topic in Arizona right now, but it always is."
On the other hand, Jaime Chamberlain, the owner of two Nogales-based distribution businesses and the incoming chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said that a boycott by 70 truckers could have a significant impact on freight rates, which would translate into higher prices. He also thought the state would take an economic hit from lost sales revenue.
"If there are truckers who do feel that this is not a good bill and not a good law, and if they refuse to drive through the state of Arizona, that's not good for Arizona, because every single one of these truckers spends money in our state," he said.
Brewer's office didn't respond to requests for comment on the truckers' boycott. At a news conference Friday when she signed the bill, the governor said it wouldn't bring about racial profiling.
The Arizona bill has stirred a national debate, including among the state's representatives in Congress. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., publicly supported the measure this week, while Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva decried the bill and called for businesses across the country to boycott Arizona if it became law.
President Barack Obama added his voice to the debate Friday, calling the measure misguided.
(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.)
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