Politics & Government

Immigration debate rages in Arizona, around nation

PHOENIX — More than a dozen people protesting Arizona’s hard-line stance against illegal immigrants were arrested Thursday, demonstrating that a ruling by a federal judge blocking most of the state’s controversial new immigration law will not quell the furious debate over the issue here.

Despite Wednesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton temporarily putting key parts of the law on hold, hundreds of demonstrators fanned out in Phoenix, arguing the state remains inhospitable to immigrants.

“It’s not over yet,” said Vanessa Bustos, 24, who chained herself to five other activists, blocking the door to the Maricopa County Jail. “There are other bills being enacted against the Latino community.”

As if to highlight that point, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is launching his 17th “sweep,” in which his deputies and volunteers fan out in immigrant neighborhoods, stop people for sometimes minor violations and then check their immigration status.

Arpaio has said the enjoinment of the law, SB 1070, does not take away any of his ability to try to drive illegal immigrants from the state. SB 1070 made that approach official state policy, arguing that illegal immigration has harmed Arizona.

Manuel Esquivel, of Phoenix, applauded the efforts of those who were arrested. He said he’s lived in Arizona for 40 years and that his family has been in the United States for generations.

“Arizona has always been racist,” said Esquivel, who was wearing a “Legalize Arizona” T-shirt. “The world needs to know what’s going on in Arizona.”

Esquivel said the next step is encouraging Latinos to vote. Even with the injunction against SB 1070, Esquivel said he’s still worried. “There’s nothing to prevent the cops from stopping me and asking for my papers.”

The protesters, some of whom gathered well before dawn Thursday, marched to various venues in Phoenix, including the federal courthouse where Bolton issued her injunction.

Protesters later gathered near City Hall and Arpaio’s headquarters, clutching signs that said “We reject racism” and “No racial profiling.” Other signs proclaimed “No more raids.”

People chanted “Stop 1070, we will not comply,” while drums thumped in the background. A group of about 30 people locked arms and blocked a downtown intersection.

Celina Benitez, 31, with the Southern California Immigration Coalition, said she came to Arizona from Los Angeles to show her support for Arizonans who are protesting the law. Benitez said she is concerned about other states proposing similar legislation.

“This is not just about SB 1070,” she said. “This isn’t just about Arizona. To some people it may seem like a victory; we are saying it’s not.”

SB 1070, which would have taken effect Thursday, declared that the state’s policy is “attrition through enforcement” — an attempt to drive out illegal immigrants, who make up about 7 percent of the population in Arizona, through a series of criminal penalties. Even without the law, though, the state has used many tools against illegal immigrants.

Among the marchers were Gloria Lopez and her husband, Roberto, both illegal immigrants. The couple said they have six U.S.-born children and have lived in the U.S. for 22 years, both holding steady jobs, he as a truck driver, she as a cashier.

“The American dream doesn’t exist,” she said. “We aren’t free.”

The couple said they considered leaving Arizona but decided to stay because of their children. As a result, they said, they rarely leave the house on weekends.

“If we leave, we don’t know if we will come back to our home,” Gloria Lopez said. “Senor Arpaio, with the law or without the law, he’s going to continue.”

Some protesters had come from California. Beatriz Ramos, of South Pasadena, came with her husband, Rosendo. He sat in a wheelchair holding a poster that said, “We are the backbone of the United States.” He held a basket of bread in his lap.

“We want to remind the governor and Sheriff Arpaio that they eat the fruit and vegetables we pick,” Beatriz Ramos said.

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