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All-Star protest lacking heat

Downtown Phoenix can look like a ghost town in July, when temperatures routinely top 105 degrees. This year is an exception, with thousands of people pouring into the city for baseball’s All-Star game Tuesday.

Banners greeting visitors adorn airport walls and stretch from light posts. The All-Star game logo -- a Southwestern palette of Sedona red, black and Sonoran sand featuring the mountains surrounding the Valley of the Sun -- is everywhere, from storefronts and hotel lobbies to restaurants and taxi cabs.

But not everyone feels entirely welcome here.

“We are getting letters and emails from people asking us if they need to bring any documentation when they’re visiting for the All-Star game,” said Luis Avila, president of Somos America, Arizona’s largest immigrant-rights coalition. “Why should anyone be asking what kind of documentation should I be carrying when I’m in Arizona? That is ridiculous.”

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It’s also reality in a state where last year the legislature passed a bill that made it a crime not to carry citizenship or immigration papers and allowed police to detain people suspected of being in the country without authorization.

The outcry was quick, passionate and predictable, with some saying the bill legalized racial profiling and others saying it was necessary to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants.

Much of the Arizona law remains tied up in the federal courts, and the feared roundups of foreign-born ballplayers during spring training never happened.

Meanwhile, the rest of the nation has moved on, with Georgia and Alabama passing even tougher laws aimed at undocumented immigrants and six other states considering similar legislation.

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This week, the All-Star game has brought the focus back to Arizona, where there are about 3,000 people currently detained on immigration charges, according to Victoria Lopez of the Arizona ACLU.

Somos America will have a presence outside Chase Field, site of the All-Star festivities, as well in front of the Phoenix Convention Center, where the concurrent FanFest will be held. There, demonstrators will be asking people to wear white ribbons to “take a stand against divisive hate-based legislation,” Avila said.

That’s a far cry from what they were asking for a year ago, when Commissioner Bud Selig was being pressured to move the game out of Arizona.

Privately, baseball officials say relocating the game was considered but rejected because it was unlikely to affect the Arizona law. Critics considered that stance -- or lack of one -- as weak and unprincipled given that 28% of major league players and more than 47% of minor leaguers are foreign-born.

“I am disappointed that Major League Baseball has not taken a stand on this. But it seems to me that they’re voting their wallets when they don’t say something,” said Michael Wildes, a prominent immigration attorney based in New York. “It may take baseball players to raise the banner that we’re doing something that’s discriminatory.”

Shortly after Arizona lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1070, a number of All-Star-caliber players promised to boycott the game if it were held in Arizona. Among the most prominent was Adrian Gonzalez, who was born in San Diego and grew up in Tijuana. Last year, Gonzalez, then playing for the Padres, called the law “immoral” and a violation of human rights that “goes against what this country is built on.”

But recently Gonzalez, who as a member of the Boston Red Sox was voted into the American League’s starting lineup at first base, said he was “not big into politics” and that he intended to play in Phoenix.

And the players’ union is supporting that as well.

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“We stated then that, if SB 1070 as written went into effect, we would consider additional measures to protect the interests of our members. SB 1070 is not in effect and key portions of the law have been judged unlawful by the federal courts,” union President Michael Weiner said Friday. “Under all the circumstances, we have not asked players to refrain from participating in any All-Star activities.

“Our nation continues to wrestle with serious issues regarding immigration, prejudice and the protection of individual liberties. Those matters will not be resolved at Chase Field, nor on any baseball diamond.”

Avila said he’s disappointed and would like to hear Gonzalez speak out again, even if he does participate in the All-Star game.

“What would we gain if we start a fight with Adrian Gonzalez?” Avila said. “We just need to hear it again. We just need to be reminded of what [he] said last year.”

Jose Solis would like to hear it again too. Solis, who manages a 50,000-square-foot indoor swap meet in a largely Hispanic part of Mesa, Ariz., is a U.S. citizen who now carries proof of that fact wherever he goes.

“That is a good thing that somebody is going to say something,” he said of the planned demonstration. “Not for the benefit of the players. Not for the benefit of the politicians. But for the benefit of Phoenix. This is something really bad for Phoenix.

“I’m not angry, but I’m disappointed. There is a lot of fear. This is not the country that I came to love.”

Avila will be standing outside Chase Field this week wearing a white ribbon. He is no longer protesting the All-Star game -- “We know that we cannot boycott a game that is already happening,” he said -- so he intends to make the best of the opportunity the game will provide.

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“For sure we’re going to continue to up the pressure,” Avila said. “The cameras are here in Arizona. The reporters are here in Arizona. We have to take the time to do it.

“We have to remind people that Major League Baseball has been in the forefront of civil rights conversations since Jackie Robinson started playing. ... They have to take it a step forward. And they have to make a statement while they’re here.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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