Standing up to a racist law

August 2, 2010

Alan Maass rounds up reports of protest against SB 1070 from Arizona and beyond.

SUPPORTERS OF justice and civil rights gathered around the country for protests, pickets and other actions on July 29 as Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070 officially went into effect--though with its most offensive provisions blocked by a federal judge.

The day before, judge Susan Bolton, who is deliberating on seven legal challenges against Arizona's racial profiling law, including one filed by the Justice Department, issued an injunction against sections of SB 1070.

Among the blocked provisions was one requiring Arizona law enforcement to detain any arrested person if they can't prove they are in the U.S. legally; another mandating police determine the immigration status of anyone they "reasonably suspect" of being undocumented; another forcing immigrants to carry papers at all times; and yet another criminalizing undocumented immigrants who seek work. However, other parts of the law have gone into effect.

The injunction followed an outpouring of protest since SB 1070 was signed into law at the end of April. On May 29, at least 50,000 people participated in a demonstration in Phoenix, the high point of a nationwide day of action against the law. City councils across the country have voted not to do business with Arizona. The Arizona Diamondbacks have faced protests wherever they're on the road, and many musicians are participating in a boycott on performances in the state until the law is rescinded.

Protesting Arizona's SB 1070 in Phoenix on July 29 as part of a national day of action
Protesting Arizona's SB 1070 in Phoenix on July 29 as part of a national day of action

Bolton's action is a victory for those who took a stand against Arizona's racist law, but it's only the first step. "There is no partial solution to hatred," said Carlos Garcia of the Puente Movement, which called for a day of non-compliance on July 29 as the law went into effect. "We reject unconstitutional laws and racist immigration practices that profile U.S citizens, separate families, terrorize communities and rob us of our basic humanity."

THE CALL for solidarity against Arizona's anti-immigrant law got support across the country, with activists on opposite ends of the country holding actions that blocked New York City's Brooklyn Bridge and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

But ground zero for the protests was naturally in Arizona's capital city of Phoenix. A steady stream of demonstrations led up to July 29, from several civil disobedience actions to a banner drop the day before from a 230-foot-tall construction crane in downtown Phoenix, sending the message of "Stop hate" for all to see.

The first protest of July 29 took place the minute the law took effect--at 12:01 a.m.--in Guadelupe, a small town outside Phoenix where the mostly Native American and Latino residents have long resisted the policies of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man who has become the ugly face of Arizona's anti-immigrant bigotry. About 80 people blocked the intersection at the entrance to the town and held it for several hours, according to a report by writer Jordan Flaherty at the Truthout Web site.

By 6 a.m., observers were at sites where day laborers seek work to talk to workers about their rights--and to record and protest civil rights abuses. Arpaio had vowed that he was going to carry out his idea of immigration enforcement regardless of Judge Bolton's injunction. Indeed, one day later, around a dozen organizers were arrested for blocking sheriff's deputies from entering a day laborers' center.

The first big demonstration of the day took place as the business day began in downtown Phoenix. Around 1,000 people gathered in front of the Wells Fargo Building, home to not only one of the biggest crooks in Wall Street's theft of untold billions, but also the pricey offices of Joe Arpaio and his sheriff's department.

As protesters took the streets, chants of "Arrest Arapio, not the people!" rang out from dozens of bullhorns. The demonstrators held their ground for several hours. Eventually, around 25 people who intended to be arrested were handcuffed and taken away by police.

One person risking arrest for the first time was 22-year-old Joanna of Las Vegas, who said:

We've just gotten to a point where enough is enough. They're arresting and criminalizing the wrong people. If they're going to arrest us anyway, it should be for resistance. We're really following in the footsteps of immigrants themselves, who by crossing the border are refusing to comply with an unjust law.

By midday, demonstrators moved on to a protest at the Maricopa County jail. Arpaio had vowed to carry out raids on the day SB 1070 went into effect, so activists planned to be ready to stop him from putting more innocent victims behind bars.

Several activists locked themselves together and blocked the entrance where sheriff's department vehicles would have to bring detainees. Several groups of people were arrested for blocking the entrance, plus about 10 members of the press who were picked up for being at the front lines of the protest. Another rally took place at the jail later in the day.

Among the opponents of SB 1070 in Phoenix for the day of action were more than 500 activists from Los Angeles, who arrived on buses organized by the AFL-CIO. They attended a community forum and heard from Phoenix political leaders and those affected by anti-immigrant laws. The group then marched to join the protests downtown.

All told, more than 80 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, according to organizers. Among them was Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Salvador Reza of the Puente Movement.

Obviously, Arpaio and the anti-immigrant bigots who passed SB 1070 were on the front of everyone's minds.

But many people were also angry with the administration of Barack Obama, who promised as a presidential candidate to change the direction of immigration policy. Instead, Obama has stepped up enforcement, and while the Justice Department filed suit to block SB 1070, the administration has refused to take tougher measures to make sure the racial profiling law is defeated.

As the Puente Movement's Alto Arizona Web site reported, "Organizers drew the root cause of the issue to President Obama's federal enforcement ICE access programs that empower local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. Protesters called on the president to end the criminalization of migrant communities with 'the stroke of a pen.'"

Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, echoed the point: "Solving this crisis means not just stopping SB 1070 and Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, but stopping all the Arpaios that the president's ICE access program is creating all across the country."

THE DEMONSTRATIONS in other cities showed a similar determination to not rest until SB 1070 is defeated--and to challenge the wider attack on immigrant rights.

In Los Angeles, 10 activists--locked together and prepared to be arrested--took over the intersection at Wilshire and Highland during the morning rush hour. Hundreds of people gathered and held a picket around the activists, protecting them for a period of hours.

The location was chosen because it is the address for the corporate offices for Wackenhut, a private prison company with a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to run immigration detention facilities and supply equipment for ICE. According to organizers, Wackenhut's government contract was worth $180 million last year.

The spirit of the protest was defiant, with dozens of young radicals ranging from people who have been demonstrating in support of the DREAM Act to activists with the Bus Riders Union and the city's South Central Farm. As one speaker declared, "We will not allow business as usual while corporations are making hundreds of millions of dollars off the suffering of our families."

Police closed down several blocks around the intersection for at least three hours before arrests were made.

In San Francisco, immigrant rights activists planned several actions to protest SB 1070 as well as the federal government's Secure Communities (S-COMM) program that likewise involves local police in federal immigration law enforcement.

On July 28, the Bay Area Coalition for Immigration Reform organized a protest of around 150 people in front of the Federal Building, with 19 clergy and immigrant rights activists participating in a civil disobedience that blocked 7th Street.

Actions continued the next morning, with around 80 immigrant rights activists holding a press conference in front of Attorney General Jerry Brown's office--speakers called on Brown, who is running to be California's next governor, to opt out of S-COMM. As the press conference ended, some activists marched into Brown's office, demanding to meet with him directly. A staff member informed the crowd that Brown wasn't in, but this didn't stop activists from voicing their views.

Later that afternoon, a rally and speak-out organized by the Bay Area Organizing Committee Against SB 1070 took place at 24th Street and Mission. Around 300 people gathered to hear speakers challenge the attacks on immigrants and to watch a performance by Mujeres Unidas y Activas that depicted the reality of ICE's abusive treatment of immigrants when in detention.

"I came because it's appalling how racist these laws are," said Mia Tu Mutch, an LGBT activist. "I want to see this law stopped, and amnesty for all undocumented. People are treated as criminals and that's not right."

In Chicago, nearly 400 activists turned out for a march and rally where they made loud and clear their opposition to SB 1070.

But for many, this was more than a solidarity protest. Activists called attention to the way in which some of the most controversial practices sanctioned by the Arizona bill--those that caused so much outrage nationally--are already practiced locally.

The march and rally were held outside of Chicago's Cook County Jail, a sprawling 96-acre courthouse/prison complex just southwest of downtown. One of the speakers at the rally explained the location:

SB 1070 legalizes collaboration between la polica and and la migra. But inside and outside of Arizona, the collaboration already happens, whether the law says it can or not. In Illinois, people who are arrested at traffic stops are brought to jails like this one, where ICE agents check their immigration status and have the power to place them on indefinite hold, sometimes moving them to ICE detention centers.

These practices occur despite Chicago's official status as a "sanctuary city." In 1985, the City Council passed a municipal ordinance forbidding police-ICE collaboration and promising equal access to public services irrespective of immigration status. As one of the organizers explained, "We want to show people that their anger about the law in Arizona can have a local target--poli-migra collaboration."

Organizers and their supporters also sought to call attention to the fact that an average of 1,100 people are deported from the U.S. every day.

In fact, the demonstration served as a kickoff for the newly formed Moratorium on Deportations Campaign. The Chicago-based group's chief demand is for President Obama to sign an executive order putting a hold on raids and deportations. As veteran activist Jorge Mujica explained:

When it became clear to us that there will be no serious discussion about immigration reform right now, we realized that we don't need lawmakers in order to put a stop to raids and deportations, because Obama can issue an executive order. What's happening is crazy. Even by deporting 400,000 people a year, it would take 30 years to get every undocumented person out of the country. With one signature, Obama can stop this until serious immigration reform can get on the agenda in Washington.

OTHER CITIES, large and small, were represented for the national day of action.

In Washington, D.C., 500 people showed up to protest SB 1070 in front of the White House. The protest was organized by Familia Latina Unida, which put together a rally featuring Rep. Luis Gutierrez followed, by a march to a nearby church for a town hall meeting. The theme of the protest was "Stop the Separation of Our Families"--many children in the crowd wore shirts saying "Don't deport my mom," and "Don't deport my dad" as a way to dramatize the issue.

In Philadelphia, activists organized several events during the week to protest SB 1070 legislation.

On July 27, around 75 people came out to a rally against the Arizona Diamondbacks when they played the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. With this protest, Philadelphia joined about a dozen other cities that have held anti-SB 1070 protests at baseball parks.

The protest lasted about an hour and a half, with activists forming a picket outside the entrance of the stadium. Carmen, who has been organizing with Reform Immigration for America for two years, explained that she was protesting because "SB 1070 brings back segregation and fear in the immigrant community."

On July 29, almost 100 people marched to ICE headquarters to protest anti-immigration policies at both the state and federal levels. Maria, an activist who has been protesting to demand passage of the DREAM Act, told her story of coming to the U.S. She graduated from high school and would like to go on in higher education, but is unable to because she is undocumented.

In Charlotte, N.C., around 75 people assembled to rally against SB 1070--and copycat legislation in North Carolina, as well as the federal government's 287(g) program that allows local law enforcement to collaborate with federal authorities on immigration issues.

Rosario, a young student immigrant activist who was arrested for participating in a hunger strike in support of the DREAM Act held in front of Sen. Kay Hagan's office in Raleigh, N.C., urged everyone to continue to fight against the racism. Next in North Carolina is a march in Raleigh to pressure the legislature to support comprehensive immigration reform.

In Northampton, Mass., more than 40 people packed into a public forum on the topic "Should we boycott Arizona?" A panel of four speakers expressed the emotional and legal issues looming in the fight against SB 1070. During the discussion that followed, it was clear that most people supported a boycott--but also that the fight against injustice cannot stop there.

Jonathan Corin, Meghan F., Rayyan Ghuma, Claudia Heske, Sarah Knopp, Ken Love, Greg Love, Diana Macasa, Tyler Mitchell, Gillian Russom, Jorge Torres and Lilian Wehbe contributed to this article.

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