Around a year ago, just days after Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law and made Arizona synonymous with nativism and bigotry, Arizona Congressmen Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva, both Democrats, spoke before an anti-1070 rally of thousands, exhorting the crowd to fight against the hate 1070 represents.
Pro-immigrant firebrand and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez was there as well. This year, Gutierrez returned to join a smaller crowd that peaked at about 1,000 at the state Capitol, marking one year since Brewer made "attrition through enforcement" (i.e., ethnic cleansing) official state policy.
Both Pastor and Grijalva were no-shows for the march and rally on Saturday. Gutierrez, however, gave his whole day. So when I saw him that morning at a breakfast given for march organizers by Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox at her restaurant El Portal, I told him that we should make him an honorary Congressman from Arizona, since our own were nowhere to be seen.
Indeed, on the ride to El Portal, I heard Grijalva on the radio commenting on President Barack Obama's recent immigration summit, where the president renewed his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. On NPR, Grijalva stated that he thought Obama was sincere in his promises.
Which immediately made me wonder if Grijalva might be in the market for beachfront property in Kingman, Arizona.
(I should mention there were some local politicos present at the breakfast: state House member Ruben Gallego, state Senator Steve Gallardo, Wilcox, state House member Albert Hale, and, surprisingly, Republican Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley.)
At the breakfast, when one of those present asked if Latinos should support Obama's re-election effort in 2012, Gutierrez was unequivocal in his response.
"I can't go out and campaign for him," said Gutierrez. "He doesn't have my support for re-election."
Gutierrez explained that he didn't want to "make this an issue between two politicians," rather it should be "an issue between the community and the president."
He said he would like nothing better than to be able to campaign for Obama or see Latinos across the country campaign for Obama, but the fact that the Obama administration has done nothing to advance immigration reform or help the plight of the undocumented, remains an impediment.
"The fact is there's a lot of pain," he stated. "There's a lot of confusion. There's a lot of cynicism. And there's a lot of rejection. That has nothing to do with what I say or think."
Indeed, the general mood of the march and the rally was one of endurance, of continuing the fight. Sure, most of SB 1070 has been enjoined, and that enjoinder has been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
But not all of 1070 is enjoined. Indeed, what remains mandates that local lawmen enforce federal immigration statutes to the furthest extent possible, and threatens those who assist the undocumented with prosecution.
In fact, the war on the undocumented continues in Arizona and nationwide, led, sadly, by the Obama administration in the form of local-federal efforts, such as 287(g) agreements and the Secure Communities program, both under the auspices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Last year, a record 392,000 individuals were deported to their countries of origin. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, headed by ex-Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, along with the rest of the Obama administration has maintained that aliens who've committed serious criminal offenses are being targeted.
But that is a lie. Through Secure Communities and 287(g) agreements, all aliens booked into many of the nation's jails are subject to immigration holds, no matter how petty their offenses.
The L.A. Times reports that, "half of the immigration holds issued since the inception of the Secure Communities program have been for non-criminals or those charged with misdemeanors -- not the violent criminals the program has purported to prioritize."
Also, the feds have actively deceived states and municipalities, allowing local governments to believe Secure Communities is voluntary, when in actuality it is a federal mandate from which they cannot opt out.
So, despite some positive developments, like the recent defeat of five anti-immigrant bills this year in the state Senate, many local activists and advocates sounded pessimistic.
"I think we were able to defeat some bad bills [in the state legislature]," remarked Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza, whose Puente Movement organized the march. "But until we get [the politicians who wrote] them out of office, until Obama ends his practice of trying to cater to the right, until he gets scared that he's going to lose the election, or that he's not going to get our vote, we're not going to get anywhere."
Phoenix attorney/activist Danny Ortega and Reza do not always see eye to eye. But in regards to the lay of the land a year following 1070 being signed into law, their assessments parallel each other.
"We've had some small victories, but overall things have not gotten better, they've only gotten worse," Ortega told me during the demonstration, noting the record number of deportations.
"Obama blames the Congress for what's going on," he continued. "But it's what he's doing administratively that's causing the most problems, it's his policies. So we're not going to support him unless he changes course, and he's got to stop blaming the Congress for things he can change himself."
Ortega is Chairman of the Board of the National Council of La Raza, the most powerful Latino organization in America. Though Ortega always cautions me that he's speaking on his own behalf, and not that of NCLR.
Blasting Obama was practically the theme of the march and rally, which ended peacefully with mariachi music and dancing after hearing from several speakers.
A handful of gun-totin' nativists hounded the rally from the sidelines, but Capitol Police, Phoenix cops and Arizona Department of Public Safety Officers kept arguments between the two sides from turning violent.
The great irony, of course, is that though these Tea Party types despise Obama, Obama is in effect doing exactly what they want through his administration's immigration policies.
None of this bodes well for Obama's re-election effort. Obama has even gone so far as to warn off some members of Congress from attending events where Gutierrez is present.
Gutierrez wants Obama to use his discretion to protect certain classes of the undocumented, like the so-called DREAM Act students, and parents of American citizen children. Obama could "parole" such individuals, for instance, to freeze their immigration status and prevent them from being deported, Gutierrez insisted.
"We're going to continue this drum-beat until he changes," Gutierrez said of Obama, following his speech.
I asked him if he would consider challenging Obama in the Democratic primaries for president in 2012.
"My only consideration right now is the schedule I have to meet," he smiled, as he headed to catch a plane at Sky Harbor.
Gutierrez has been barnstorming the country with his criticism of the Obama administration, and, of course, he did not say, "No," to my question about him running for president.
Personally, I think he should challenge Obama next year. No, he can't win, but it would force Obama to respond. And should Gutierrez come anywhere close to winning a state primary, it would send a clear message that many Latinos and others eager for immigration reform, are disgusted with his administration's stance.
Granted, the feds did successfully challenge 1070 in court. But to what end? Just so the feds can do the sort of ethnic cleansing that local nativists want to do themselves? "Change you can believe in," has become the change Latinos must fear.