TEMPE, Ariz. – Supporters and opponents of Arizona’s tough new crackdown on illegal immigration held separate rallies in Phoenix, drawing thousands of people from around the country.
Marchers carrying signs, banners and flags from the United States and Mexico filled a 5 mile stretch of central Phoenix, demanding that the federal government refuse to cooperate with Arizona authorities trying to enforce the law.
Police declined to estimate the size of the crowd, but it appeared at least 10,000 to 20,000 protesters, some bused in from around the country, braved 94-degree heat. Organizers had said they expected the demonstration to bring as many as 50,000 people.
Some used umbrellas or cardboard signs to protect their faces from the sun. Volunteers handed out water bottles and set up water stations. About 20 people were treated for heat or fatigue-related symptoms, and seven of them were taken to a hospital, said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson. There were no arrests or other incidents, he said.
The law’s opponents also gathered at capitols in states including Texas and Oregon, and about 300 people protested at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City demanding legalization for undocumented Mexican workers in the United States.
“Many of us have relatives or friends in the U.S. and we must now stand up and speak out on their behalf,” said Elvira Arellano, who gained international attention in 2007 when she was deported without her U.S. citizen son.
In San Francisco, about 500 people gathered Saturday night outside AT&T Park, where the Giants were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks. Leaders of the rally said it was organized to help push for a boycott against Arizona.
About 7,000 supporters of Arizona’s law gathered Saturday evening at a baseball stadium in suburban Tempe, encouraging like-minded Americans to “buycott” Arizona by planning vacations in the state.
Charlene Pellin answered that call. The 64-year-old suicide prevention speaker drove to Phoenix for a four-day vacation from her home in Huntington Beach, Calif., to attend Saturday’s rally.
“Hopefully if enough people show support for Arizona more states will follow suit,” Pellin said.
Supporters said they are standing with Arizona for trying to enforce immigration laws because the federal government has failed to do so.
“The operative word in all this is ‘illegal,'” said Christine Griswold, a 54-year-old gynecologist in Palm Desert, Calif. “It has nothing to do with their race. It’s that they’re coming to the country illegally.”
The law requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask them about their immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they’re in the country illegally.
Critics of the law, set to take effect July 29, say it unfairly targets Hispanics and could lead to racial profiling. Proponents insist racial profiling will not be tolerated.
“I don’t think that this law is American. I think it’s discriminatory,” said marcher Chelsea Halstead, a 20-year-old college student from Flagstaff. “I’m offended by it because this is a nation founded by immigrants.”
Some marchers chanted “si se puede,” a phrase coined by Hispanic civil rights leader Cesar Chavez that roughly means “yes we can.” Others took aim at President Barack Obama, demanding that he prioritize comprehensive immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country.
“Obama, listen, we are in the fight,” they chanted in Spanish. A handful of protesters also carried a massive banner that read: “Where’s the change? Mr. President how can we trust you for re-election?”
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