Arizona immigration protesters hit the streets

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Hundreds of marchers protesting Arizona’s hard-line stance against illegal immigration took to the streets Thursday even as the local sheriff launched raids to arrest illegal migrants — vivid signs that the court ruling stopping most of a controversial state law will not quell the furious debate over immigration here.

And as expected, the state swiftly appealed the ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who on Wednesday temporarily halted key parts of the law one day before they were to take effect.

The protesters began marching well before dawn, fanning out across the city, staging acts of civil disobedience and arguing that Arizona remains inhospitable to immigrants. Dozens of protesters were arrested.

“It’s not over yet,” said Vanessa Bustos, 24, of Phoenix, 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.”

Showing that Arizona can take strong steps against illegal immigrants despite the ruling, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched his 17th sweep Thursday, in which his deputies and volunteers stop people for sometimes minor violations, such as jaywalking, and then check their immigration status — which police are already allowed to do under existing law.

Arpaio has said the temporary injunction against the law, SB 1070, doesn’t stop him from driving illegal immigrants from the state.

“Nothing is going to deter this sheriff and my office, including rulings by the federal judge,” Arpaio told reporters at a midday news conference. “It’s going to be business as usual.”

In the state’s appeal, Gov. Jan Brewer asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the temporary injunction as soon as possible. Oral arguments could occur in September.

“We are a nation of laws and we believe they need to be enforced,” Brewer said in a statement. “If the federal government wants to be in charge of illegal immigration and they want no help from states, it then needs to do its job.”

Technically, SB 1070 took effect Thursday, but Bolton’s ruling — issued after the Obama administration sued and contended the law interfered with federal immigration enforcement — barred most of its provisions until a trial on the bill’s constitutionality. The key provisions would have required police to determine the status of people they lawfully stop and also suspect are in the country illegally. The law also would have made it a state crime to lack immigration documents.

Brewer signed the bill April 23, arguing it was needed to protect the state from drug violence seeping across the border from Mexico.

Some of the measure’s supporters argued that the provisions halted by Bolton would not have changed much on the ground here. Everyone booked into the jails in the state’s most populous counties has his or her status checked. Police officers can already ask anyone they choose about his or her immigration status.

Mark Spencer, board president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Assn., a police union that is a strong backer of the law, said SB 1070 merely would have required other agencies to employ procedures widely used in Phoenix.

“We were test-driving SB 1070” in Phoenix, Spencer said. “Now we’re going to take it on a long-term road trip. Nothing changed for the Phoenix Police Department.”

The law makes “attrition through enforcement” Arizona’s official policy, meaning the state will take whatever legal steps it can to make life unpleasant for illegal immigrants and persuade them to leave.

Despite the court victory, immigrant rights activists decided to follow through with protests scheduled Thursday, when the entire law was to have taken effect. Polls have shown that SB 1070 is highly popular in Arizona, and marchers said the injunction doesn’t change how immigrants and Latinos are treated here.

“We live here in a climate of fear,” said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former Democratic state senator who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002. He joined about 100 people on a two-mile march from the state Capitol at 4:30 a.m. and was later arrested. “The context of Arizona is foreign to this country. This is basically a nation that’s become hostile to its own people.”

Channtal Polanco, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, was one of several people who have staged a 24-hour vigil at the state Capitol during the 104 days since the Legislature passed SB 1070. On Thursday morning, she said she was inspired by a cousin who had asked if Polanco would be guardian to his daughter should he and his wife be deported.

“That broke my heart,” Polanco said.

Since 2004, Arizona has passed a series of laws aimed at illegal immigrants — tightening restrictions on identification needed to vote, limiting the ability of illegal immigrants to post bail after arrest and dissolving companies who hire them. Recent bills have been interpreted by some as a straight-out attack on Latinos — a law that seeks to eliminate a Mexican American studies program and a regulation that stops teachers with accents from teaching certain public school classes.

On Thursday the demonstrations started quietly, with the predawn march to a downtown church, led by women holding images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. After a 90-minute service, the growing crowd marched to the downtown high-rise that houses Arpaio’s executive offices.

Marchers waved signs that said “We reject racism” and “No more raids.”

Gloria Lopez, 36, and her husband, Roberto, are both illegal immigrants who live in Phoenix. They have six U.S.-born children, have been here 22 years and hold steady jobs. “The American Dream doesn’t exist,” Gloria Lopez said. “We aren’t free.”

Lopez said she and her family continue to live in fear of the sheriff. “Señor Arpaio, with the law or without the law, he’s going to continue.”

Demonstrators eventually disobeyed police orders to remain on the sidewalks, spilling out into the wide thoroughfare and blocking traffic. Police arrested more than two dozen there and at the jail. (In Los Angeles, about a dozen protesters against SB 1070 were arrested after blocking portions of Wilshire Boulevard.)

Kristin Larson, 36, watched the Phoenix protests in disgust, holding a handwritten sign supporting Arpaio. “I see this happening over and over again, and I don’t see support for the other side,” said Larson, who works downtown and watches regular protests against Arpaio. She said she was frustrated by people from outside Arizona criticizing the state.

“The border needs to be secured and they need to find a way to fix it,” Larson said.