A national research association decided to move its 2013 annual convention out of Atlanta because it feared that international visitors and U.S. citizens of color among the 14,000-plus attendees might feel unwelcome due to the state’s immigration enforcement law, according to the executive director.

Felice J. Levine, executive director of the Washington-based American Educational Research Association, told GlobalAtlanta in a telephone interview that the association had considered Atlanta an ideal choice for the convention because of its geographic location, the city’s history as a leader in promoting diversity and inclusiveness, its growing international reputation as an educational and business center and its affordability.

The association’s board, however, decided to bear the “substantial costs” of canceling the Atlanta venue due to Georgia HB 87 considered to be among the toughest immigration enforcement measures in the country. “It’s not easy to move and the decision was made at a substantial financial loss,” Dr. Levine said.

Founded in 1916 to strengthen education through research, the association, known as AERA, has 25,000 members in the United States and abroad.

The arrangements to locate its annual meeting in Atlanta were made prior to the passage of HB 87, and the association has paid cancellation costs to all but one of the hotels that deferred an assessment until an accounting of resales has been completed.

The association said in its Feb. 24 announcement of the move to San Francisco that the Georgia law, which empowers police to investigate the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants, violated its desire to choose a “receptive environment” for its members attending the meeting.

With venues selected in as many as seven years in advance, San Francisco was chosen on comparatively short notice because it could accommodate the meeting, she said, adding that it was preferable to Atlanta because the meeting’s participants would be “free of constraint, distraction and intimidation that could occur” due to HB 87.

Dr. Levine said that 15 percent of the meeting’s attendees, including college and university professors, leaders in school systems, federal, state and local agencies, foundations and representatives of the private sector, would come from abroad.

She also cited the Feb. 24 announcement that says: “Since passage of this law in May, some members have indicated that they would not attend a meeting in Atlanta where they or other participants from Mexico, Haiti and other countries could be racially profiled and harassed.”

Dr. Levine said Mayor Kasim Reed and members of the city’s hospitality and hotel industry sought to persuade the association not to switch venues. “The mayor and the hospitality and hotel industry told us that the city would be a safe environment,” she said, “but the city can’t ensure a safe harbor. The legislation has a chilling effect.”

HB 87 also violates the association’s mission and research policies that it supports, she added, including “its code of ethics and a commitment as a democratic organization to the values of equity, equality and transparency.”

Although Gov. Nathan Deal favors immigration laws being addressed at the federal level, he campaigned in favor of an Arizona-style law while running for his current office and signed HB 87 into law last year.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta recently heard arguments for and against the Georgia and Alabama immigration laws but decided to wait until the Supreme Court issues its decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 to make its own ruling.

To learn more about the AERA, go to www.aera.net