PHOENIX—Thousands of people from around the country marched to the Arizona state Capitol on Saturday to protest the state’s tough new crackdown on illegal immigration.
Opponents of the law suspended their boycott against Arizona and bused in protesters from around the country. Organizers said the demonstration could bring in as many as 50,000 people. Midtown Phoenix buzzed with protesters carrying signs and American flags. Dozens of police officers were on standby along the route of the five-mile march, and helicopters hovered overhead.
Supporters of the law expect to draw thousands to a rally of their own Saturday evening at a baseball stadium in suburban Tempe, encouraging like-minded Americans to “buycott” Arizona by planning vacations in the state.
Critics of the law, set to take effect July 29, say it unfairly targets Hispanics and could lead to racial profiling. Its supporters say Arizona is trying to enforce immigration laws because the federal government has failed to do so.
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. Reasonable suspicion is not defined.
“Arizona has become the testing ground for the most draconian and anti-immigrant legislation in the country,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Some opponents of the law have encouraged people to cancel conventions in the state and avoid doing business with Arizona-based companies, hoping the economic pressure forces lawmakers to repeal the law.
But Alfredo Gutierrez, chairman of the boycott committee of Hispanic civil rights group Somos America, said the boycott doesn’t apply to people coming to resist the law. Opponents said they secured warehouse space for 5,000 people to sleep on cots instead of staying in hotels.
They’re calling on President Barack Obama to order immigration authorities to refuse to take custody of illegal immigrants turned over under Arizona’s law. Supporters of the law sought to counteract the economic damage of boycotts by bringing supporters into the state. “Arizona, we feel, is America’s Alamo in the fight against illegal and dangerous entry into the United States,” said Gina Loudon of St. Louis, who is organizing the “buycott.”
“Our border guards and all of Arizona law enforcement are the undermanned, under-gunned, taxed-to-the-limit front-line defenders trying to hold back the invasion,” she said. The law also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally or to impede traffic while hiring day laborers, regardless of the worker’s immigration status. In San Francisco, groups planned to protest at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ game against the Giants Saturday night.