The May Day protests, which had been planned for months, were larger than expected, fueled by opposition to Arizonas anti-immigrant law SB 1070, which was signed by Gov. Janice Brewer here April 23. These are the largest May 1 immigrant rights protests since 2007.
Here in Phoenix some 15,000 people, possibly as many as 20,000, in their big majority Latino workers, rallied and marched around the Capitol from morning until well after dark.
Hand-lettered signs held high by demonstrators expressed their determination to stand up to the attacks. They included, We do not run! We are not criminals! We stay in Arizona! Here to stay, If you mess with one bean, youll get the whole burrito, and Lost a battle, not the war.
SB 1070 makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. Police are instructed to determine a persons immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that a person may be undocumented.
Ive worked here 13 years and Im going to fight this law, said Genaro Gonzalez, one of those who came early to the Phoenix protest. We are hard-working people. A criminal is someone who robs and kills. Just because you dont have papers doesnt make you a criminal.
Its wrong to separate families, said Pat Martinez, who came to the demonstration with her three daughters. Her husband is now living in Mexico. I have to be here to stand for what is right, she said. There are an estimated 460,000 undocumented workers in Arizona. More than 100,000 workers without papers have left the state over the past two years due to a combination of rising unemployment and increased immigration enforcement.
Seeking to dampen the national outcry against SB 1070 as racial profiling, the Arizona state legislature amended the law on April 30. It now states that race cannot be considered when inquiring about a persons immigration status and that police can ask for immigration papers only when they stop, detain or arrest.
The revised law, however, broadens the opportunity for victimization of immigrants as well as others by including city code violations such as speeding in a school zone as offenses that could lead to an investigation of a persons immigration status.
Many signs carried by protesters addressed this. Some read, Im Mexican, pull me over! Driving while brown! Do I look reasonably suspicious? and What does illegal look like?
On April 29 and 30, just one week after SB 1070 was passed, Joseph Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, ordered 200 deputies and posse volunteers to sweep through working-class districts in west Phoenix. They arrested more than 100 people.
Arpaio, who is notorious for organizing raids of immigrant communities, boasts he has arrested 38,000 illegal immigrants over the past few years. Under a human smuggling law already on the books, immigrants have been charged with being co-conspirators in their own smuggling.
Puente, a group that has spearheaded resistance to Arpaios raids, organized the afternoon rally at the Capitol. Carlos Garcia of Puente chaired and was loudly cheered when he announced plans for another demonstration May 29.
Puente plans to give a shout out to activists in other cities to converge on Phoenix on May 29, said Puente activist Sandra Castro.
High school students, many of whom joined school walkouts before and after SB 1070 was passed, marched in contingents around the Capitol and spoke at the rally, urging fellow students to join the struggle.
Some marchers expressed anger that deportations have increased over the last year. Obama has expanded what Bush did, said Christopher Martinez. He has increased deportations and is strengthening the border.
Mario Zuniga drove to the protest with two carloads of students from the University of California, San Diego. He carried a sign saying, SB 1070 is more than misguided, referring to Obamas characterization of the law. He said students at UC San Diego organized a rally on campus as soon as they heard about the law.
In the evening, thousands of new participants, many just coming off work, poured into the Capitol grounds. Protesters, energized by the reinforcements, lined nearby streets, waving signs and cheering as passing cars honked in solidarity. Thousands more continued to march around the Capitol building chanting slogans. As the demonstration finally drew to a close, groups could be heard blocks away chanting, Sí se puede! as they walked to their cars.
May Day 2006, a nationwide strike
On May Day 2006, 2 million people mobilized to press for legalization of all immigrants, with many skipping work that daythe first nationwide political strike in U.S. history. In 2007 nearly 400,000 took to the streets on May 1 to continue the fight against stepped-up immigration raids and deportations. In 2008 and 2009, thousands joined May Day marches for immigration rights, but on a smaller scale.
Many of the marches this year, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, had sizeable union contingents.
Vandals attack immigrant rights group
More union contingents join L.A. May Day rally
Immigrant rights strengthen labor
Atlanta rally condemns ICE arrests
Mushroom workers rally on May Day Partial list of May Day actions in the U.S.
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