Why the Phoenix Suns Oppose Arizona's Immigration Law

The Phoenix Suns announced that they will be wearing jerseys saying "Los Suns" in Game 2 of their NBA Western Conference Semifinals game. (Should it be "Los Soles"? Maybe this is a regional Spanglishism.) Nominally in honor of Cinco de Mayo, it is openly a slap at their home state's draconian new immigration law. The NBA and their opponents (the San Antonio Spurs) are also on board. As Matthew Yglesias notes, Steve Nash, the Suns' best player, and several Spurs stars are immigrants, so that shouldn't be a total surprise.

But the pro-immigration stance of otherwise apolitical businesses reflects a key divide in the immigration debate. Among native-born non-Latinos, the divide is not so much Democrat versus Republican as elite versus the masses, much like free trade. Elite, global corporations, such as the NBA, appreciate the importance of open markets and open borders. They see the economic benefits of being able to bring a Steve Nash to the U.S. As with trade, their views are not so much liberal as cosmopolitan, and they are shared by elites in the business community and libertarian, as well as liberal, policy wonks. 

The average working-class American, on the other hand, does not feel the macroeconomic benefits of free trade. If they do, it is in the somewhat disguised form of lower prices. But they do feel the competition from immigrants for low-wage jobs, and they do feel the effects of an influx of poor immigrant workers in their neighborhoods. The populist anti-trade sentiment thus finds expression on both the left (say, Dennis Kucinich) and on the right (say, Pat Buchanan). On immigration, a liberal like Kucinich, or a leader of the often anti-immigration African-American community like Al Sharpton, must reconcile the concerns of his constituency with his commitment to civil rights. Thus leaders on the left will often support immigrant rights while many of their followers do not.

This is born out by the recent poll data showing that a vast majority (74 percent) of Americans think immigrants are bad for the economy, despite the widely held view among economists of all political stripes that overall immigration is a net benefit. 

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