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Arizona Business Owners Hesitate To Support Trump Over Immigration Stance


Leaders in Arizona's business community are anxious about Donald Trump. Ahead of the state's primary on Tuesday, they're expressing concerns that Trump's rhetoric on immigration and Mexico could prompt a backlash. It's something Arizona has experienced before. Here's Jude Joffe-Block of member station KJZZ.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Six years ago, Arizona lawmakers passed a bold immigration-enforcement law, S.B. 1070, that made Arizona ground zero in the national debate on immigration. The law as written made it a state crime to be in Arizona without proper documentation and required police to ask about immigration status.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) U.S.A., U.S.A....

JOFFE-BLOCK: So Phoenix was an obvious place for Donald Trump to hold a campaign rally not long after he entered the presidential race last summer.


DONALD TRUMP: The word is getting out that we have to stop illegal immigration. We have to. We have to.

JOFFE-BLOCK: But here in Arizona, the hard-line state immigration bill had an unintended consequence - a backlash.

JAMES AHLERS: We were known for all the wrong reasons for a while being a place that was not seen as welcoming to outsiders.

JOFFE-BLOCK: James Ahlers is with the firm that represents Phoenix's trade interests in Mexico. Eventually, much of S.B. 1070 was thrown out by the courts. But before that, there were boycotts of Arizona. In fact, the same convention center where Trump spoke lost 30 percent of its bookings, and some blamed the state's stained reputation. Even six years later, when Ahlers travels to Mexico...

AHLERS: We do get questions about, you know, why should we work with Arizona? How do you view immigration? Have your attitudes changed from what we saw several years ago with S.B. 1070?

JOFFE-BLOCK: Local and state leaders make a point of traveling to Mexico regularly to repair the relationship, but many here worry Trump's claims that Mexican migrants are rapists and that Mexico must pay for a border wall could reverse that progress.

CARLOS FERNANDEZ: You don't know what's - what he's going to say, who he's going to offend, what his policies could possibly be.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Carlos Fernandez is the CEO of an aerospace manufacturing company that operates on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border.

FERNANDEZ: It's just a lot of unknowns, and that makes everybody nervous.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer says Trump doesn't seem to appreciate that for border states like Arizona, prosperity on this side is linked to the strength of Mexico's economy. Mexico is Arizona's top trading partner.

GLENN HAMER: So the better our friends in Mexico are doing, the better we're doing in Arizona.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Hamer is an outspoken critic of Trump's trade policies, particularly Trump's pledge to renegotiate NAFTA and his stated willingness to engage in a trade war if Mexico refuses to pay for the border wall.

HAMER: Setting off a chain of reaction with our greatest friends and allies, this could trigger a great recession or it could trigger a depression.

JOFFE-BLOCK: But Trump's Arizona campaign chairman Jeff DeWit insists that predictions of soured relations with Mexico if Trump enters the White House are overblown.

JEFF DEWIT: I just think that the word will go out that America wants to do a good job with our trade deals again. And we want to have a strong immigration policy.

JOFFE-BLOCK: DeWit, who serves as Arizona's state treasurer, says that a President Trump would make better trade agreements than past administrations.

DEWIT: And I think that's something that Donald Trump will bring is a business-minded attitude towards these deals. And I think it'll be better for both sides.

JOFFE-BLOCK: And it seems many Arizona Republicans agree. Polls show Trump has held a consistent lead here for months. For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jude Joffe-Block