|March for Human Rights in Phoenix January 16 against anti-immigrant and anti-working-class policies of Maricopa County sheriff Joesph Arpaio. Protest of 10,000 was largest to date.|
The demonstrators marched several miles to the Tent City jail Arpaio set up in the desert for immigrants and other prisoners. The sheriff has made a name for himself for his frequent and arbitrary anti-immigrant sweeps, as well as what is widely considered degrading and harsh treatment of prisoners. Arpaio drew national attention and protests when he marched some two hundred immigrants through the streets of Phoenix in stripes and chains last February.
The protest, held on the Martin Luther King Day weekend, was billed as a March for Human Rights. It was called by Puente Arizona and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network. Organizers sought to link the historic and ongoing working-class fight for Black rights with the struggle for the rights of immigrant workers.
As the march passed by their homes, Toni Jones and Freda Goodman, both of whom are African American, held printed signs reading, We are human and Obama: ¿Donde está la reforma? (Obama: Where is the reform?) I love it when they do this. It brings the community together, said Jones. I wish Id known they were doing this todayId be handing out snacks. Commenting on Arpaios attacks on undocumented immigrants, she said, I think they should all have the right to work.
One of the central demands was that the Barack Obama administration end an agreement that allows Maricopa County cops to check the immigration status of people in their custody. The Department of Homeland Security has similar agreements, known as 287(g), with dozens of cop agencies throughout the country. Some grant police officers powers to enforce immigration law on the streets.
Last July the Department of Homeland Security made cosmetic changes to the controversial 287(g) program, while expanding it and other government anti-immigrant operations.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out a record number of deportations last year. At the same time, the Homeland Security department responded to the growing protests against Arpaios actions by formally revoking in October Maricopa Countys authorization to carry out immigration arrests on the streets. But the arrests have continued.
Nothing has changed, said Irene Chavez, an activist in the fight against the sheriff. Theyre still doing sweeps and jailing immigrants on the most minor of charges, she said. Arpaio says that since April 2007 cops in the county jails have checked the immigration status of 217,000 people, and handed more than 31,000 over to ICE.
The march was popular in the working-class neighborhood just north of the county jail. Groups of people waiting on corners joined in. Other residents stood in front of their homes waving in support.
While most of the marchers were from the Phoenix area, delegations came from Tucson, several cities in California, and as far away as Texas and Illinois. The crowd was overwhelmingly working class.
We call for legalization
Were here to call for legalization, said Maribel Zubin. Her friend Edaena Valdez explained, We cant get work and insurance because of the papers. We just want to work.
One of the signs they carried read, Stop shackling mothers in childbirth. They and others explained that this is one of the humiliations that prisoners in the county jail are subjected to.
Prominent participants in the march included singer Linda Ronstadt, former United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta, and musician Zach de la Rocha.
The sheriff has drawn criticism from many local politicians, several of whom addressed the crowd. County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said whats happening is a lack of respect for the Hispanic community that Ive never seen in my lifetime. We have to say no to Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio has launched investigations against many of his critics, including Wilcox, on charges such as corruption and conflict of interest.
Many high school and college students took part in the march. For Erik Stewart, who is about to enter Glendale Community College, this was his first march. I think its important that Arpaio be stopped because hes gone too far, hes very racist, and I think he needs to be put out of office, Stewart said. My stepdad is illegal. Because of the police harassment he cant work, and my mother has to support the whole family.
Toward the end of the march, police pepper-sprayed some demonstrators and arrested five, who now face charges that include aggravated assault on a police officer. Among those hit with the pepper spray were young children. Organizers quickly helped participants resume the march, without further incident.
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