PHOENIX – The state of Arizona could become this week the first in the country to criminalize the presence of undocumented immigrants, spurring the Hispanic community to react with protests and acts of civil disobedience.
“I think the fear that the Hispanic community felt at first is turning into courage,” Lydia Guzman, an activist of the Respect/Respecto organization, told Efe on Monday.
She said that in Arizona, especially in Phoenix, the atmosphere is perceptibly tense, and compared it to what she felt while living in Los Angeles amid the violent disturbances of 1992, after which a jury acquitted the four police officers who were caught on videotape beating black motorist Rodney King.
“People are beginning to ask why they have to live in hiding, why they have to lower their heads,” the activist said.
SB1070, which goes into effect on Thursday, requires state and local law enforcement agents to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally.
Guzman said that desperation is rife among immigrant families and will only increase as the date draws nearer for the new state law to take effect.
“The community is beginning to ask how far things have to go before the federal government steps in,” Guzman said.
She said that immense indignation greeted the news that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose jurisdiction includes Phoenix, has already designated a special Cellblock 1070 in the county jail for locking up undocumented aliens arrested under the new law.
The hopes of many immigrant families and activists are placed in U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who last week held hearings for the suits filed by civil groups and the federal government against the implementation of SB1070.
Bolton has three choices open to her: to allow the law to go into effect, to stop certain parts from being implemented, or to suspend it entirely.
Up to now, the judge has taken no decision, nor has she set a date to make her ruling known.
Meanwhile, shuttered businesses and empty homes for rent in Hispanic neighborhoods are reminders of how many families are leaving Arizona.
“We see families leaving behind their teenaged kids with relatives or friends so they can finish high school, while they go looking for work in other states,” Guzman said.
For several weeks in cities like Phoenix and Tucson it has become a common sight on weekends to see families holding garage sales to try and sell their belongings in order to collect as much money as they can.
The topic of conversation in shopping malls and stores frequented by Hispanics is SB1070 and the cities where families are seeking a new life, some in nearby states like New Mexico and others as faraway as Alaska.
Meanwhile, national and local organizations are preparing a state-wide demonstration that will kick off on Wednesday with a vigil in several cities, followed the next day by protests outside the state capitol in Phoenix. EFE