PHOENIX—It was more an atmosphere of fiesta rather than fear that rippled through a crowd of thousands of who rallied Saturday on the steps of the Arizona legislature to denounce the newly enacted “Papers, Please” law—SB1070.
The mood of those who marched five miles through 95-degree heat was, perhaps, summed up best by the slogan seen on numerous posters: “Undocumented Unafraid.”
Organizers of the protest had predicted a crowd as large as 50,000, and while the rally might have fallen short of that mark it was, without question, one of the largest protests since the controversial Arizona law was passed about a month ago.
Today’s march and rally marked the kick off of what some community organizers and activists are calling Arizona’s Freedom Summer. Plans to stage more rallies and escalating acts of civil disobedience will be further elaborated over the remainder of the Memorial Day weekend as organizers from across the Southwest and the rest of the country huddle here in Arizona.
“We are drawing the line quite literally in the sands of Arizona,” said an organizer of the million-member Service Employees International Union. “This law cannot stand and America cannot stand it.”
Banners from union locals and immigrant rights groups throughout Arizona and California were mixed in among the sea of American flags and portraits of the Virgen de Guadalupe that flapped through the throngs. “A bunch of us got into cars and vans and made the trip here,” said Marina Velasquez, from the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte. “We would have driven to Wyoming if we had to.”
The “Papers, Please” law broadly empowers local Arizona police to enforce federal immigration law and to make stops and ask for identification and some sort of proof of legal residence on the basis of reasonable suspicion. Critics of the law say it flings open the door to blatant racial profiling and is clearly unconstitutional.
A favorite target of the protesters was local Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is not only a supporter of SB1070 but who has also been long using his deputies to conduct high-profile raids in predominantly Latino communities in the Phoenix Metro area. Federal investigators are currently probing Arpaio for possible abuse of authority. But he, nevertheless, remains a hero to the Arizona anti-immigrant forces.
Saturday’s rally and march comes one day after Obama Administration Department of Justice officials were in Phoenix meeting with the state attorney general and with representatives of Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who signed SB1070 into law.
The DOJ reps expressed serious concern about the constitutionality of the measure and threatened the possibility, but not the certainty, of federal legal intervention. There are currently five lawsuits pending against SB1070. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, reacted indignantly to the DOJ pressure, telling the press he would “vigorously defend” the law, even though he conceded it was “far from perfect.” Another recently enacted Arizona state law tightening sanctions on employers who hire the undocumented has just been referred to the US Supreme Court by the Federal Office of Solicitor General. A delegation of high-profile police chiefs, including those of Phoenix, Tucson and Los Angeles met with federal officials last week to warn that the new Arizona law could undermine their day-to-day work.