Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez exhorted an audience of thousands at the Arizona state Capitol Sunday to fight against the racial profiling bill SB 1070 recently signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer.
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Gutierrez's argument is solid. The 287(g) program is a federal grant of authority to select local law enforcement agencies, allowing them to enforce federal immigration law, and the program has expanded under the Obama administration, as have similar programs such as Secure Communities, which scours local jails for aliens to deport.
Such "force multipliers" as the programs are referred to by the feds have set the precedent for state Senator Russell Pearce's SB 1070, which requires police departments in Arizona to enforce federal immigration law under penalty of lawsuits.
"Now it is time to say no more excuses, no more enforcement-only actions," stated Gutierrez, in remarks directed toward the White House. "It is time to bring about comprehensive immigration reform once and for all."
Gutierrez demanded that Obama take immediate action to reverse the trend of local law enforcement usurping the federal government's duties on immigration.
"It really isn't that difficult," Gutierrez said, speaking rhetorically to the president. "It takes a pen and a signature to say the police do not have an inherent right to carry out immigration policy. It is the responsibility of the federal government."
Indeed, that bogus rationale -- that local cops have the "inherent right" to enforce federal laws -- is one that was promulgated by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft under the administration of George W. Bush. Sheriff Arpaio has used that legal opinion as justification for his anti-immigrant sweeps. And Russell Pearce frequently repeats this mantra as backing for the new law.
Despite his swipe at the White House, Gutierrez made clear that overturning SB 1070 would be first on the agenda of pro-immigrant activists.
"1070 is wrong and we need to defeat it first and foremost," he stated. "[Then] we will march forward to allow all of the 12 million to legalize their status here in this country so they can live with us."
And he offered a warning to the state, citing Cesar Chavez's historic grape boycott as a model for action.
"Arizona, it is time for you to march in the 21st century," he admonished. "Or you too will be boycotted across this nation."
Other leaders spoke at the rally, but none quite matched the oratorical passion of Gutierrez. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva renewed his call for a national boycott of Arizona.
"I am asking national organizations across this country," he told the crowd, "civic, religious, of color, unions, women's organizations, not to have their conferences and conventions in this state, until we rectify this law."
Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor stopped short of joining the call for a boycott, telling me before he spoke that he wanted to see if the federal government could stop the law from being enacted 90 days after the legislature adjourns, as normally would occur.
"Right now," he said, "I think the most immediate thing is getting the Obama administration using the Department of Justice to file the legal motions that are proper to temporarily enjoin the law from being implemented. That's the most immediate thing we can do"
On stage, Pastor repeated this demand, and insisted that the Obama administration suspend all 287(g) agreements and deportations in Arizona until the legislation is enjoined.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon explained that he has placed an item on the agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting, seeking approval for a lawsuit to halt the new law in its tracks.
"We governments have [legal] standing more than a lot of the stakeholders [to bring such an action]," he observed, adding that, "Before 90 days any local government or even the federal government could do it."
Gordon said he had called the White House with his concerns, and stated that he'd also talked to U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke, who he claimed was working on the matter over the weekend.
After the rally at the Capitol, Gutierrez, Gordon and other religious and civic leaders went to Phoenix's First Institutional Baptist Church for a service featuring powerful preaching on the subject of SB 1070 from Pastor Warren H. Stewart.
Stewart told the overflow audience of churchgoers that deceased civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. "are cheering us on" from beyond the grave.
"They are saying. `Go for it, go get it, go do what needs to be done,'" he said to a raucous ovation.
Stewart hailed the nine student activists who chained themselves to the Capitol's doors on Tuesday as the harbingers of a new civil rights movement that was beginning here in Phoenix.
Calling on passages from the Old Testament, Stewart indicated that the state leaders who've shepherded SB 1070 into law may have inadvertently called forth a sleeping giant.
"Thank you Arizona state legislature for SB 1070," he offered, ironically. "You may have intended to do harm, but God intended it for good...You have awakened the 21st century civil rights movement."