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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 74/No. 18      May 10, 2010


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(lead article)
Arizona protests hit
anti-immigrant law
High school students lead walkouts
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Hundreds of students in Phoenix protest new law against undocumented workers April 23

PHOENIX—More than 1,000 high school and middle school students walked out of classes here April 22 demanding Gov. Janice Brewer veto Senate Bill 1070. However, she signed the anti-immigrant bill into law the following day.

More than 3,000 people marched on the state Capitol April 25 to protest the law, which takes effect in late July or early August. There have been daily protests here against the bill before and after it was passed.

The legislation makes it a crime under state law to be in the United States “illegally.” First time violations of the law are punishable by up to six months and a fine of up to $2,500. A second arrest would be a felony.

Police are instructed to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine people’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented. Knowingly transporting or attempting to “conceal, harbor, or shield” an “alien” is a criminal offense under the law.

The law also targets day laborers by banning people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment if doing so “blocks” traffic. It also makes it illegal for workers without papers to solicit or accept work.

Brewer claimed she signed the law to “work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix—the crisis caused by illegal immigration and Arizona’s porous border.” Depicting undocumented workers as criminals, she said the measures were necessary to protect the “citizens of Arizona” from “the murderous greed of drug cartels” and other criminals.

In her statement Brewer noted that the section of the new law on “willful failure to … carry an alien registration document is adopted, verbatim, from the same offense found in federal statute.”

Maricopa County sheriff Joseph Arpaio said that the new law won’t change much of what he has already been implementing in the Phoenix area for several years, although he said it would give the cops more “tools” to use against undocumented immigrants. He said the law would spur the federal government to take further action. Arpaio is notorious for using the local police force and volunteer posses to conduct immigration raids and harass Latino workers. He boasts that he has arrested some 38,000 undocumented workers over the past few years.

Arizona is a main entry point for workers from Mexico and Central America who want to work in the United States. There are an estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants in Arizona, many of them in the Phoenix area. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of workers without “proper” papers declined by 18 percent in the past year.

In an action that helped create an atmosphere favorable to passage of the bill, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deployed more than 800 agents April 15 to carry out arrests and searches in Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales, and Rio Rico, Arizona, to break up an alleged immigrant smuggling operation.  
Students walk out
Vanessa Ayala and Hector Dueñas, both 16 years old and students at Trevor Brown High School, described the April 22 walkout to protest the bill.

“On Thursday at 11:00 a.m. everybody walked out. On Friday, no one showed up,” said Ayala. “Students walked out at Estrella Middle School and we took them with us.”

“A student at Maryvale High School twittered me that security wouldn’t let them out,” said Dueñas. “We’re rivals but we went over and helped them out.”

Students walked out of at least a half dozen high schools and either marched, took public transport, or caught rides to the state Capitol building. Once there they joined a vigil begun by students from Arizona State University.

Jeff Zetino, an Arizona State University graduate, said that he and six other students from that campus began the vigil April 18. “By lunch we were 30; by night, 100; on Monday, 200; Tuesday, 300. We kept a sustained vigil going,” he said.

Radio station La Campesina de César E. Chávez stationed a truck with a sound stage at the Capitol, which the students used to speak out against the bill. Two, three, or more times an hour they would break into a run and energetically march around the Capitol, chanting, “Veto 1070,” “Sí se puede,” and “We are here to stay.” Students and young workers marshaled the actions.

At the April 25 rally, organizers of the action announced from the stage that demonstrators had come from California, Colorado, and Texas. A delegation from the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition in Texas drove 22 hours to Phoenix.

“We’re not criminals, just humans trying to get a better future.” Patricia Balderas, a 27-year-old student at Phoenix College, said in an interview. She described the law as “pure racism.”

One demonstrator carried a sign saying, “No Juan Crow laws,” a reference to the connection between the struggle of Blacks against Jim Crow segregation in the South in the 1950s and ’60s and the struggle for immigrant rights today.

Many carried signs denouncing the new law as “racial profiling.” The law is widely seen as giving the green light to cops to stop people based on their skin color or accent to demand proof of citizenship.

A young woman marched with handcuffs. She wrote on her T-shirt, “I’m Mexican. Arrest me.”

Martín Hernández, an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said he had come not only to fight against the law but also to get support for about 300 workers who were fired April 20-21 from Pro’s Ranch Markets’ six supermarkets in the Phoenix metropolitan area after a federal immigration audit.

Hernández explained that the workers have no union but “union or no union we should fight for them.”

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying that the Arizona law was “misguided” but did not say that he would take any actions to block implementation of the law other than to “closely monitor” the situation.

U.S. congressman Luis Gutiérrez from Chicago spoke at the rally, saying he opposed the law because immigration enforcement “is the responsibility of the federal government” not local police.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union have said they will challenge the law in court.

Organizers of the April 25 action announced a march on May 1 at the state Capitol in Phoenix to continue the fight against the law.
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