Call for Immigration Overhaul
On Saturday May 1, 2010 tens of thousands of angry placard bearing demonstrators joined marches and rallies in cities across America in protest of Arizona’s new immigration law.
Protesters gathered around the country on Saturday, including in Washington, criticizing an Arizona immigration law and calling for a federal overhaul. Photo Lake Sharett, New York Times
The activists are demanding that Congress pass an immigration overhaul and have called for a boycott of Arizona businesses. Supporters, however, say the law is necessary because of the federal government’s failure to secure the border. They referred to Friday’s attack on deputy sheriff Louie Puroll who was shot and wounded after coming across a band of suspected drug smugglers about 50 miles south of Phoenix. Brewer and others said the attack shows a growing problem with a porous border in southern Arizona and was proof that something had to be done quickly.
President Barack Obama had once promised to tackle immigration reform in his first 100 days, but has pushed back that timetable several times.
In New York some 5,000 people attended the rally at Manhattan’s Foley Square. Organiser John Delgado said anger over the new Arizona law—which requires local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally, “has awakened a sleeping giant.”
In Washington, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, was arrested after staging a sit-in on the sidewalk in front of the White House with about three dozen other people, in front of a crowd of thousands.
Around 3 p.m. Gutierrez sitting cross-legged holding a small American flag and wearing a white T-shirt with red letters that stated, “Arrest me not my friends.” The protesters each held letters that spelled out the message, “Obama, stop deporting our families.”
Mr. Gutierrez was handcuffed behind his back with plastic cuffs by the Park Police. He remained silent when an officer led him away along the black wrought-iron fence in front of the White House. Among others arrested with him were Jaime Contreras, director for Washington, D.C., of the Service Employees International Union, Joshua Hoyt, Ali Noorani and Deepak Bhargava, leaders of immigrant advocate organizations.
Before he was arrested, Gutierrez, speaking in English and Spanish said “There are moments in which you say, ‘We will escalate this struggle,’ Today they will put handcuffs on us. But one day we will be free at last in the country we love.” In all, 35 people were arrested in the sit-in, the United States Park Police said.
Gloria Estefan kicked off a massive march through downtown Los Angeles to demand immigration reform and protest the Arizona law. She spoke in Spanish and English from on top of a flatbed truck, proclaiming the United States as a nation of immigrants. She said immigrants are good, hardworking people, not criminals.
In 2006 more than a million people across the US protested the unsuccessful federal legislation that would have made being an illegal immigrant a felony. The movement fractured and the annual May 1 rally’s attendance dropped as attempts to reform federal immigration policy fizzled. Last year, fewer than 15,000 participated in the rallies, held on May 1. Since Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the new immigration law on Friday April 23, activists began a mobilization that has culminated in the rallies yesterday.
“What happened in Arizona proves that racism and anti-immigrant hysteria across the country still exists. We need to continue to fight,” said Lee Siu Hin, a coordinator with the Washington, D.C.-based National Immigrant Solidarity Network.
Critics of the law say it’s unconstitutional and encourages racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants or anyone thought to be an immigrant. But they say that without federal legislation in place to address the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S., other states may follow Arizona’s lead.
“If Republicans and Democrats do not take care of this albatross around our necks, this will in fact be the undoing of many, many years of civil rights struggle in this country,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
California legislators have mulled canceling contracts with Arizona in protest. Denver Public Schools has banned work-related travel to Arizona. And several legal challenges, preventing the bill from going into effect this summer, are in the works.
“Given what’s happening in Arizona now it’s crucial for us to speak out and denounce what’s happening,” said Veronica Mendez, an organizer with the Workers Interfaith Network in Minneapolis, where there’s also a Saturday rally. “We all have the same hopes and goals.”
At rally after rally across the nation, protesters chanted “shame, shame, Arizona,” and carried signs saying, “Todos Somos Arizona,” or “We are All Arizona.”