Arizona law condemned: Protestors in El Paso say justice tossed aside
EL PASO – Horns honked in support of demonstrators on Mesa Street on Saturday afternoon, nearly drowning out their calls to repeal a controversial Arizona state law requiring police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
One woman in the crowd of about 400 people lining both sides of Mesa north of Sunland Park Drive shouted, “This is the civil-rights movement of the 21st century.”
Many held signs denouncing the law. A chant of “Justicia, Ahora,” or “Justice, Now,” rose and fell.
Critics have said the Arizona law requires police to racially profile Hispanics because most undocumented immigrants in the state are from Mexico.
The demonstration, organized by Border Network for Human Rights, was part of a nationwide May Day protest against the law.
“This is a strong condemnation of the Arizona law,” said Fernando Garcia, Border Network’s executive director. “It’s very clear this law criminalizes race. It’s a racist law.”
Demonstrators gathered in front of the city’s Republican Party Headquarters. An elevator in the building would not stop on the floor where the office is located, and stairwell doors were locked.
However, Jaime O. Perez, who is running as the Republican candidate for El Paso County judge, said he believes the law can be enforced fairly.
“I think all of those are exaggerated claims,” Perez said in a telephone interview.
The law will be used to arrest cartel members who have created “lawless” conditions on the border, he said, not an undocumented “grandmother who is coming to do somebody’s laundry.”
“That’s the intention,” he said. “I think that’s what they want to do.”
County Commissioner Veronica Escobar, a Democrat running against Perez for the county judge position, attended the rally to show her support.
“I have long been an advocate for responsible, comprehensive immigration reform,” Escobar said. “The fundamental issue here is the lack of either of those things in the Arizona law.”
Escobar said the federal government has failed to confront the issue, which pits communities and states against each other. She said immigration is a federal issue that should not consume state and local government resources.
“It is irresponsible to use our precious local tax money on enforcing federal laws,” she said.
County commissioners will take up a measure on Monday that would prohibit spending county money on Arizona goods and services. Escobar said she has mixed feelings on the proposed boycott.
“I stand with the folks who say, ‘This is unacceptable and we’re not going to support it,’ ” she said. “But I don’t want to harm our local economy.”
She pointed to a Peter Piper Pizza across the street, noting that a local person bought a franchise from the company, which is headquartered in Arizona.
“These are local franchises that employ local people and pay taxes into local coffers,” she said.
Abigail Arredondo, an El Paso native, said in Spanish that she came to show support for fellow Hispanics.
“Our families have mixed cultures, and we want them to respect that according to the Constitution,” she said. “The law needs to protect everyone equally.”
Later Saturday, Perez announced he was submitting an immigration-reform proposal to Congress, in particular Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. He said his plan is a middle course.
It would record undocumented immigrants without deporting them but would deny them employment and health care. It would, he said, create a guest-worker program for those who want to return home as well as “a pathway to normalizing their status” for those who want to stay.
A mainstay of the program would be enforcement, he said, including a “massive increase of Border Patrol.”
“There is naturalization and enforcement,” Escobar said. “There will be no different outcome if we continue to focus on enforcement.”
But Escobar said she is not in favor of amnesty. “I am certainly not an open-borders person,” she said.
Chris Roberts may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6136.