May Day rallies around the country focusing on immigration are bringing one of the most contentious political issues to the streets this weekend.
From Los Angeles to New York, Chicago to Houston, hundreds of thousands of protesters in dozens of cities are marching, chanting, and in some cases engaging in civil disobedience – mostly in opposition to Arizona’s tough new law aimed at stopping illegal immigration.
In Los Angeles, police prepared for 100,000 people in a march led by Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles.
“I can't imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation,” Cardinal Mahony wrote on his blog recently. “Are children supposed to call 911 because one parent does not have proper papers? Are family members and neighbors now supposed to spy on one another…?”
The harshness of the rhetoric reflects the strong and widely separated positions on illegal immigration. A Gallup poll released Thursday has 51 percent of those surveyed favoring Arizona’s law, with 39 percent opposed.
Other polls give similar results regarding the law, which requires that police in Arizona check the residency status of those thought to be in the country illegally.
It’s a tough issue for politicians.
“I fully recognize and support a state’s right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas,” Governor Rick Perry said in a statement Thursday. “For example, some aspects of the law turn law enforcement officers into immigration officials by requiring them to determine immigration status during any lawful contact with a suspected alien, taking them away from their existing law enforcement duties…”
Meanwhile, legal challenges to the law continue to mount – even though it was quickly amended to remove race or ethnicity as a cause for suspicion.
President Obama has criticized the law, and in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press to be aired Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton does as well. Asked by host David Gregory if she believes the law invites racial profiling, Clinton said, “I don't think there's any doubt about that.”
Police remain on the frontlines of efforts to combat illegal immigration.
On Friday afternoon, Pinal County sheriff’s deputy Louie Puroll was patrolling alone when he came upon a stash of marijuana bales and five suspected smugglers who opened fire with assault rifles. Deputy Puroll was wounded and returned fire.
On Saturday, law officers apprehended 17 suspected illegal immigrants, three of whom matched descriptions given by the deputy.
Federal studies show that Arizona has one of the fastest growing illegal immigrant populations in the country, increasing from 330,000 in 2000 to 560,000 by 2008.
As of Jan 1, 2009, there were an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Most were from Latin America, with some 6.7 million from Mexico and 1.33 million from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
The issue challenges public education as well as public safety and local economies.
“The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
“State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly," the newspaper reported. "But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators.”
In Los Angeles Saturday, singer Gloria Estefan kicked off a massive march through downtown streets to demand immigration reform and protest the Arizona law, the Associated Press reported. Estefan spoke in Spanish and English atop a flatbed truck, proclaiming the United States is a nation of immigrants – good, hardworking people, not criminals.
Cardinal Mahony stood on the truck chanting in Spanish, "Si, se puede," or "Yes, we can."