Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Phoenix, thousands protest anti-immigrant law

Chanting ¡Si, se puede! waving American flags and holding signs declaring “Legalize Arizona,” approximately 4,000 people — some of whom had traveled from Texas and California for the event — gathered on the Arizona State Capitol grounds in Phoenix Sunday afternoon to protest the state’s new anti-immigration law, and to proclaim their pride in the cultural and economic contributions of the Latino community.

There was live music and prayers, but most of the afternoon was devoted to political and community leaders speaking out against SB 1070, signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer on Friday.

In an interview just before he addressed the crowd, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said he’s taking the calls for an economic boycott against the state “very seriously.”

“We’ve already had a couple of cancellations,” said the Democratic mayor, “and several calls from groups expressing concern about this bill.” Gordon said he plans on asking the City Council to initiate a lawsuit against the state government at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Supporters claim the law will make communities safer, but Gordon says they have it backwards.

“When you force the police to check everyone’s immigration status, that’s time that they could have spent responding to calls,” said the mayor. He added that the new law will prevent victims of crimes, or witnesses, from coming forward. “There’s no reason for residents to cooperate with law enforcement if they’re afraid they’ll be arrested or deported. This law is idiotic, asinine, racist and unconstitutional.”

Lisa Magaña agrees with the mayor. An associate professor in transborder studies at Arizona State University, Magaña says the new law has been a hot topic in her classroom recently (half her students are Latino, half are not).

“[The new law] is very real for many of my students,” she said. “Most of them thought the Governor would veto it, because it’s clearly unconstitutional. So this came as a shock.”

There is an upside, Magaña says: political mobilization.

“This law will make a lot of people feel more isolated, but for others it’s a wake-up call. The GOP has been trying to court Latino voters recently. Well, that’s now destroyed.”

Where’s Obama?

Both from the speakers stage and out in the crowd, several people say they’re disappointed in President Obama’s failure to make immigration reform a higher priority before now. Still, they hope the President follows through on his earlier statement that the Justice Department may take action against the new law.

Although there was a noticeable police presence — including a few mounted law officers — the rally was peaceful. In fact, the atmosphere was festive most of the time, a stark contrast to the angry “tea-party” rallies held throughout the state earlier this year and last. There was anger here, evident in the many signs bearing swastikas and comparing Arizona to Nazi Germany, but the rhetoric, on or off stage, didn’t threaten violence.

The day ended with a prayer song performed by a man whose family has been living here since before even the Spanish arrived — let alone the newcomers — Anglos. When I talked with him after the prayer song, Kevin (he didn’t want to be identified beyond that) explained the perspective on borders and immigration that he has as a member of the Akimel O’odham/Tohono O’odham peoples:

"I don’t believe in borders. Our people live on both sides of the US-Mexican line. We never drew a line there. But they try to make us feel like criminals for traveling on our own lands. So I understand how the ‘illegal immigrants’ feel. I came here to tell them to follow their hearts like we all should. And to pray for those who are suffering."

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