Protests of Arizona immigration law promised as deadline looms

Protests and rallies are being planned in Phoenix and around the country on July 29, the day police are set to begin enforcing the controversial Arizona immigration law.

Joshua Lott/Reuters
Demonstrators wait to be arrested during a protest against Arizona's new immigration law outside the US District Court in Phoenix on Thursday.

The furor over tough new Arizona immigration law will take the form of rallies, vigils, marches, and protests beginning next Thursday, the day the law is scheduled to take effect.

The statute, which requires state and local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons, and makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally, is the subject of seven lawsuits, the third of which, brought by the Justice Department, was heard Thursday. No injunction has yet been issued to stop the law.

“Events are happening all over the state because the eyes of the nation and the world are on Arizona,” says Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, one of the activist groups planning events to protest the law.

The protests will extend beyond Arizona, as well. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) has 56 partners signed up to protest – from Action Langley Park in College Park, Md., to Working Hands Legal Clinic in Chicago. Separate protests are also planned in South Bend, Ind., and elsewhere across the country. Economic boycotts of Arizona have been proposed since the law's passage, and have seen varying levels of success.

The executive director of NDLON, Pablo Alvarado, calls the law "absolutely unacceptable to our community," and said that the organizers are urging peaceful resistance. “The other side has legislators and men with badges, but these are the only tools we have at our disposal,” he says. Mr. Alvarado says some union-sponsored caravans of workers are already scheduled to head to Phoenix from Los Angeles to protest the law.

A less vocal majority, according to public opinion polls, supporters of the immigration law are planning rallies of their own.

“An illegal immigrant is someone who bleeds ... our country, and takes [unfair] advantage of everything America has to offer,” says Daniel Smeriglio, president and founder of Voice of the People, a group based in Hazelton, Pa. He says his group plans to make that point on street corners with bullhorns beginning July 30.

The seven lawsuits may be the more effective paths to repealing the law, but legal analysts say protests like those planned engage the public attention in ways that simply following the details of a lawsuit do not.

“This is the classic tactic of civil disobedience championed by Martin Luther King in the 1960s,” says Robert Pugsley of Southwestern Law School. “It’s a very useful way of demonstrating the justness of the protesters’ cause as they see it.”

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio warns protesters to remain orderly. Seven were arrested Thursday outside District Court in Phoenix for obstructing an intersection with a protest sign, and Sheriff Arpaio says he isn't afraid to arrest more.

“No one is going to intimidate this sheriff and I know they are not intimidating the courts,” he says in a phone interview. The Phoenix Police Department urged those coming to protest to engage in "lawful and peaceful demonstrations," in a statement.

"There is always tension between protesters and counter protesters at events like these," says Mr. Smeriglio, "but I support and applaud anyone coming out to voice their opinion. It’s the American way."


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