Several hundred people, rallying under cries to “boycott racism” and “stand on the side of love,” descended on the Arizona State Capitol Wednesday to protest a string of legislative proposals they’ve dubbed “anti-immigrant.”
Carlos Garcia, director of the migrant rights group Puente Arizona, said he organized the protest, along with a coalition of 15 other community groups, to pressure Governor Doug Ducey to veto several bills, including House Bill 2024 and House Bill 2223, which attempt to crack down on towns, cities, and counties that have embraced policies to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
If passed, HB 2223, would force local police to to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement and bar local governments from issuing identification cards for undocumented immigrants.
HB 2024 would hold cities and counties responsible for legal costs if they are sued for failing to assist the federal government in enforcing immigration laws — regardless of whether the suit prevails. (Currently, to discourage frivolous lawsuits, a judge can require the losing party to pay court costs and attorney fees.)
“We want to know: What is Governor Ducey going to do?” Garcia said. “Is he going to keep spewing hate like the Arizona of the past, like Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio? Or is he going to take the state in a new direction?”
People drove from Prescott, Tucson, and Berkeley, California, to attend the rally. Participants ranged from university students to ministers to anarchists to stroller-pushing moms.
Several protesters waved giant, paper monarch butterflies, a popular symbol for migration. An elderly woman in a broad-rimmed straw hat carried a hand-written sign that read: “God says you shall love strangers as yourself.”
“Stop the hate! Stop the hate! Stop the hate!” the people chanted as they marched around the courtyard between the Senate and the House of Representatives, snaking their way inside the capitol’s historic rotunda.
The words echoed through the hallways, bringing several legislative staffers out of their offices, ears plugged. The marchers also protested Senate Bill 1377 and HB 2451, which, inspired by a string of high-profile murders committed by undocumented immigrants who previously had been ordered deported, aim to strengthen punishment for criminals who are living in the country illegally.
SB 1377 would create a stricter sentencing system for undocumented immigrants who commit misdemeanors or felonies and make them ineligible for bail, probation, or plea bargains. HB 2451 would allow the Arizona Department of Corrections to transfer prisoners who have served 50 percent of their sentence to ICE for deportation.
Alejandra Gomez, co-director of the immigrant rights organization Living United for Change in Arizona, which helped organize the protest, argued the proposals would create “two criminal justice systems,” one for undocumented people and one for U.S. citizens.
“We’re not saying people who commit crimes shouldn’t be punished,” she said. “But these folks should receive the same due process as anybody else.”
More than a dozen police officers stood by, hands clasped in front of them, as the protesters marched round and round the capitol complex.
One man dressed up as presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has publicly denounced Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and pledged to build a wall along the United States’ southern border to block migration.
Dozens of others carried signs bearing anti-Trump slogans, such as: “Dump Trump!”
Gomez partially blames Trump for reigniting anti-immigrant rhetoric in Arizona. The state hasn’t seen so many anti-immigrant proposals since 2010, when Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, which made it a state crime to violate federal immigration law, she said. The law spurred economic boycotts and inspired a slew of lawsuits. Portions have been challenged as unconstitutional and put on hold.
“These anti-immigrant bills are taking focus away from real issues,” Gomez said. “We should be focusing on making neighborhoods safer and improving education — not attacking vulnerable populations.”
Eventually, the protesters formed a circle in the courtyard and three drummers, crouching on the ground, beat out a tune on hand drums.
The people danced, waving their arms in the air, and sang:
I have a dream
I have a dream
I have a dream of peace
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I have a dream
I have a dream
I have a dream of peace These new proposals are “just as bad” as SB 1070, said Reverend Eric Ledermann, a pastor at University Presbyterian Church, who attended the rally along with a half-dozen members of his congregation.
“These bills are completely racially motivated,” he said. “They are promoting hate. They are promoting prejudice. They are promoting ignorance.”
Masavi Perea, a 40-year-old demonstrator from Phoenix, agreed.
Looking up at Governor. Ducey’s office, he sighed: “I just hope he does the right thing.”