Protests Mount Against Arizona Law as Judge Blocks Key Parts of SB 1070

by George Shriver


TUCSON, AZ—The Ya Basta/Enough campaign, a coalition of about 20 groups in the Tucson area, “communities uniting to resist” Arizona’s racial-profiling law, SB 1070, held a 24-hour vigil in front of the State Building in downtown Tucson. The vigil began at 4 pm on July 28, the day before the law was supposed to go into effect, and lasted until after 5 pm on Thursday, July 29.

Many people came and went during the 24 hours, but the total of all who participated probably came to more than two thousand, with a high point of about 500 in the morning and afternoon of July 29, including about 50 day laborers who normally seek work in a “safe space” at the South Side Presbyterian Church.

During a speak-out and open-mike session at the vigil in the early evening of July 28, Isabel García, co-chair of the Derechos Humanos organization, a key component of the Ya Basta coalition, made some comments about the court ruling by federal judge Susan Bolton. The ruling, embodied in a nearly 40-page document, was issued just a few hours earlier on July 28 and temporarily enjoined the state of Arizona from implementing key aspects of this racist law.

“Win or lose, we had to be here,” Isabel García explained. “We have been announcing this protest for a month preceding July 29, and although this is some kind of victory, it is only temporary. There will be further court proceedings and appeals, and our fight is far from over, so we had to be here to voice our determination to resist this racist law and everything that led up to it.”

Analyzing the ruling, Isabel García continued: “The ruling says that the state of Arizona cannot enact or implement immigration law. The federal government has jurisdiction in that area. The state of Arizona has tried to preempt authority that is exclusively federal.

“The ruling also says that you cannot create a police state for people of color. Without using the phrase ‘racial profiling,’ the judge made clear that people of color would be unreasonably subjected to harassment if the law were implemented. The ruling also says that there cannot be criminalization of people without documents, and you cannot criminalize someone for soliciting or offering work.”

However, Isabel García explained further, not all aspects of the judge’s ruling are in favor of immigrant rights. “The judge did not issue an injunction against the part of the law that threatens arrest for those who, in the process of seeking work, ‘interfere with traffic.’ The judge also left in place the part of the law that makes it a criminal misdemeanor to ‘transport or harbor’ an undocumented immigrant.”

The judge did specify that she enjoined Arizona from implementing SB 1070 because there would be “irreparable damage” to those who did not at all times carry with them proof of legal residence.

In summing up, Isabel García stressed once again: “Our work is not over. We have a huge job ahead of us to educate the large numbers of the ignorant public on immigration issues. It is time for a real dialogue on these issues. We cannot accept the Obama and Schumer positions. In his July 1 speech on immigration, Obama lectured immigrants for supposedly not following the rules.

“But immigrants have been ‘following the rules’—of the labor market. For a century or more this country has invited low-wage foreign workers to come and work jobs that others would not, such as fruit and vegetable picking and work in slaughterhouses. We should be grateful to the immigrants who have enriched this country with their labor.”

Isabel García also emphasized, “We have to stop the so-called ‘free trade’ agreements whose result is to force people to leave their own countries and come to the U.S. looking for work.” (An estimated 6 million maize-growers in Mexico were driven from their family farms and ejidos, or cooperatives, because NAFTA allowed giant U.S. agribusiness corporations, subsidized by the U.S. government, to flood the Mexican market with low-price corn, and local growers were unable to compete.)

“The road to a real and positive change in immigration policy will be a long one,” said Isabel García in conclusion. “We must continue our struggle!”

Early the next morning, on July 29, Isabel García was interviewed on the independent radio and TV news hour “Democracy Now,” hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. In that interview Isabel García made more or less the same points she had made at the vigil the evening before.

There was an additional point, however. Amy Goodman brought up the July 28 New York Times news story on the increased number of deaths of migrants trying to cross through the Arizona desert. Just in this month of July, so far, 58 human remains of migrants have been discovered in the inhospitable, sparsely populated scrub-brush mountains and flatlands of the Arizona-Sonora high desert region.

An estimated 5,000 such deaths have occurred since 1994, when NAFTA was implemented and the current militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border began. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez both observed that the number of known migrant deaths in July is roughly the equivalent of the number of Western occupation troops killed in Afghanistan in July.

In her “Democracy Now” interview, Isabel García also placed the right emphasis on the importance and effectiveness of mass mobilization of people in the streets.

“I think that the Obama administration, the courts and everybody are political beings. They know what’s going on. They know that there’s massive political pressure, economic pressure, including massive historic mobilizations that have occurred in the state of Arizona. National, international people have come in. So I think most definitely there has been an impact on everybody involved, as we all know that massive, you know, real major social change results after there is mass mobilization in the streets and massive engagement by the population, and that really guides politicians, guides other entities within our system to do the right thing. And so, yes, I believe that the protests have had a definite impact on everything that we are seeing…”

During the late afternoon of July 29 (when this writer was no longer present) some of the demonstrators in front of the State Building, who still numbered around 500, occupied the intersection, through which a major artery passes in downtown Tucson. The police allowed the blocking of the intersection to go on for about an hour as rush hour traffic began around 5 pm, but then the protesters’ presence in the intersection was declared an “illegal assembly” and most were forced back onto the sidewalk, pushed by bicycle police. In the process it was reported that 13 protesters were arrested.

Participants in the Ya Basta campaign will be meeting the first week of August to discuss next steps.

In Phoenix on July 29 the turnout was only about 1,000, by the estimate of a trade union friend of ours who traveled with a caravan of 13 buses from Los Angeles. The AFL-CIO County Federation in LA organized these buses, bringing more than 500 people to Phoenix—an 8-hour drive due east.

The relatively low numbers demonstrating in Phoenix contrasted sharply with the 100,000 or more who came out on May 29, two months earlier. One cause may have been the mistaken but understandable feeling that the court injunction had removed the urgency of the problem. Also, July 29 was a workday, whereas May 29 was on the weekend. But another factor in the lower turnout may have been that the actions in Phoenix mainly centered on civil disobedience, something that only the most committed would want to be involved in. It’s likely that in most cases, the thousands of families who came out on May 29 for a massive, legal, peaceful demonstration could not afford to risk being arrested on July 29.

Accounts of the Phoenix actions, where more than 80 arrests occurred, may be found on the July 30 edition of “Democracy Now” on the Internet at <democracynow.org> and on the web site <altoarizona.com>.

Anti-SB 1070 demonstrations took place all around the U.S. and internationally. (See the accompanying article by Lisa Luinenburg.)

Of particular interest was the demonstration in New York City on July 29, where hundreds marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in solidarity with the resistance in Arizona. Among the organizers of that demonstration was Monami Maulik, the leader of a South Asian immigrant group called Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). On the previous weekend Monami had chaired the immigration workshop at the United National Antiwar Conference in Albany, New York. She was quoted as follows on “Democracy Now” on July 29:

“Whatever happens in Arizona, those same anti-immigrant policies find their way up all throughout the United States. For the last ten years, Arizona has been a testing ground for the harshest anti-immigrant policies. And so, for example, the governor of New York State has already signed on to the Secure Communities program in New York, which has not yet gone into effect, but will, and when it does, it will funnel thousands more into deportation.

“Just across the river [in New Jersey], the governor has signed on to the 287(g) program, authorizing police officers to arrest people based on immigration status. So, we feel that Arizona, maybe that law is not happening here, but there are many other harsh anti-immigrant deportation provisions that our communities are feeling right here in New York City and nearby areas.”

Participants in the immigration workshop at the Albany conference agreed that they should take part in the Oct. 2 March on Washington called by the NAACP, AFL-CIO, and the New York Hospital Workers SEIU Local 1199. But while participating they would raise the demand for a real debate on immigration, looking at the root causes and changing foreign policies like NAFTA that force people to migrate. And they would reject the enforcement-only policies advocated by the Obama administration and figures like Sen. Schumer of New York, which focus on “national security” and militarization.