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Arizona immigration law: Hispanics vow, 'We're going to fight'

The new Arizona immigration law has motivated Hispanics nationwide. Many are saying that they want to cause problems for the Republicans in November.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / April 27, 2010

Thousands of protesters attend a rally at the Arizona Capitol voicing their displeasure with the new Arizona immigration law on Sunday.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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Los Angeles

Raul Rodriguez says he doesn't know English well enough to find the right words for the Arizona lawmakers who passed a bill targeting illegal immigrants.

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One of a dozen workers standing in the parking lot outside Home Depot in T-shirts and steel-toed shoes, Mr. Rodriguez calls over his shoulder: “We’re going to fight, eh amigos?” The group nods.

If Rodriguez takes up his own call to action this November – and Hispanics nationwide follow suit – one Arizona bill could have a significant effect on politics.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

Sixteen years ago, a California ballot measure prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using social services, health care, and education helped to turn California from a reliably Republican state in presidential elections to one that is a virtual Democratic lock, says Matthew Kerbel, a political scientist at Villanova University in Philadelphia.

Through rallies and angry comments like Rodriguez's, the Hispanic community is giving the first signs that Arizona's immigration law could stir a similar response today to the one that greeted California's Proposition 187 more than decade ago.

“If you look at the history of California, you find that the experience of Prop. 187 galvanized the Latino vote like nothing ever,” says Rosalind Gold, a senior political director for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). “It was the catalyst for some of the biggest voting and registration drives we’ve ever had and brought out Latino candidates into local and state elections like nothing before it.”

California voters passed Prop. 187 in 1994, but the measure was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional.

Beyond Arizona

The demographics of Arizona are not the same as 1990s California. Its history and influx of white retirees make it solidly Republican. But the reaction from Rodriguez – a Californian – indicates that the Arizona law could have an impact beyond Arizona's borders.

“We’re angry. We’re going to carry signs. We’re going to march. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get pro-immigrant candidates into office and anti-immigrant candidates out of office," says Rodriguez. "This is a mean-spirited law and we’re not going to take it.”

Rodriguez is no stranger to political action.

Two years ago, he participated in a citizenship drive sponsored by NALEO, and last year he went door to door to push Latinos to register to vote. This month, he and several of his companions have participated in a roundtable national phone discussion sponsored by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena.

The topic: How the immigrant community can express unity about immigration reform.

Within Arizona, "this will likely help energize Hispanics to vote Democratic," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “But that could be offset by how many Anglos are more inclined to vote Republican because of this bill."

Outside Arizona, the calculus changes, Mr. Sabato says. “Hispanics are more likely to lean Democratic because of this, but Anglos are not more inclined to vote Republican.” It could give the Democratic party a much-needed boost for the midterm elections in November, he says.

Rallying the community

Activists are certainly trying to turn the law to their advantage.

“Republicans have now created a new wave of Latino activism in Arizona, and we will see younger Latinos running for political office – on the side of the Democratic Party,” says Randy Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social. “Republicans once again have shot themselves in the foot.”[Editor's note: The original version misspelled Mr. Ertll's name.]

The anger and spirit of activism has spilled beyond Arizona, adds Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

"The political, economic, and legal battle we are mounting against Arizona’s SB 1070 ... signifies a new level of political power we are demonstrating as immigrant communities in the United States,” he says. “Latinos everywhere are looking at Arizona and the Republicans who voted in favor of it and asking themselves if this is the kind of political party we should be aligning ourselves to.”

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

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Mexico issues travel warning over Arizona immigration law

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