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Fear among Hispanics dampens Cinco de Mayo

Colombian singer-songwriter, Shakira, listens to families at the CPLC Carl Hayden Youth Community Center in Phoenix tell about their life experience of living in the United States while Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon quiets the children behind her, Thursday, April 29, 2010 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans)

Colombian singer-songwriter, Shakira, listens to families at the CPLC Carl Hayden Youth Community Center in Phoenix tell about their life experience of living in the United States while Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon quiets the children behind her, Thursday, April 29, 2010 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans)

Rumors circulate of an immigration raid at Cinco de Mayo festivities. Markets normally bustling with customers preparing for the celebration are quiet. Family picnics are scaled back.

Many Hispanics in Arizona — both legal and illegal — are increasingly anxious about being targeted under the state’s tough anti-illegal immigration law. Some are afraid to leave their homes, even on the day when the nation celebrates Hispanic heritage.

Some have left the state, and some of those who remain wonder if they should follow.

“They don’t want to go to the park or clubs to celebrate because they’re scared,” said George Cortez, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen from Mesa, as he took a break from sweeping hair clippings at Eagle’s barbershop in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in this Phoenix suburb.

The law’s passage unleashed a torrent of criticism against the state. Some fear the law, which requires police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally, could lead to racial profiling and have called for boycotts.

Arizona’s law has sparked an angry national debate about illegal immigration.

Immigrant rights activists say the law is racist. Supporters deny those claims, noting that race can’t be a sole reason for questioning people. They say the law is forcing the nation to confront a long-standing problem.

But some comments have unnerved Hispanics. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., for example, said he’d support deporting U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. He added “it takes more than walking across the border to be an American citizen.”

The debate has also played out in professional sports. The Phoenix Suns basketball team wore “Los Suns” jerseys in their home playoff game Wednesday night, a show of support for the Hispanic community on Cinco de Mayo. Some fans also wore the jerseys and a group of four entered the arena with sombreros.

A White House Cinco de Mayo celebration erupted in applause when President Barack Obama, who has called the Arizona law “misguided,” acknowledged the team’s plan.

All of it has left some Hispanics to wonder about their place in the country.

On a day that commemorates an out-manned Mexican army’s victory over larger French forces in 1862, talk in Mesa focused not on celebrations but about what will happen to the burgeoning Hispanic community here and the economy.

Hispanics comprise 26 percent of the 477,000 people in Mesa, a city divided with Hispanics living predominantly on the west side and most whites living in the east. It’s also home to state Sen. Russell Pearce, a sponsor of the latest law who has railed against illegal immigration.

Standing outside a restaurant, legal immigrant Gilberto Reyes, 56, of Mesa, worried that Hispanics leaving the state will mean fewer customers coming into the supermarket where he works. He said it’s usually busy on Cinco de Mayo, but not this year.

“People are scared to go out and celebrate because he might start a raid,” he said in Spanish, referring to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s well-publicized illegal immigration sweeps that have instilled fear in the Hispanic community.

The restaurant, Taqueria Cajeme, has already seen a drop off in the number of patrons in the days since Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law.

The owner, Francisco Meza, 41, a legal immigrant living in Mesa, said he has a good idea why: that more people are afraid to leave their homes, fearing that they will be swept up by police, and that others have already left the state.

“My fear is that all my money is invested in this restaurant,” he said in Spanish.

Meza said he may have to leave Arizona, send his family back to Mexico and go to Colorado to find work.

And then he pulled out his cell phone, to show a reporter a video that he says was circulating in the Hispanic community.

A still photograph of Arpaio was accompanied by Latin music, and a Spanish speaking voice, jokingly saying the sheriff was going to raid Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Meza laughed, but behind the joke, there was fear.

Just miles away at a Phoenix news conference, actor and activist Danny Glover said that, while the law was misguided, a boycott would hurt both the targeted places and businesses as well as the people affected by the law.

While the American Bar Association said it will hold a gathering next week in Phoenix, the calls for boycotts continued.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said Arizona should not implement the law and that opponents will engage in nonviolent protests if it does. The National Council of La Raza, United Food and Commercial Workers and others scheduled a news conference in Washington Thursday to urge a boycott of the state and announce their own plans.

At the Mesa barbershop, where a “United We Stand” poster hung on the wall, Cortez finished sweeping up the clippings. He said Pearce, the state senator, will soon see that the law would destroy the economy in his hometown and in the state.

“He’s going to see how big a problem he’s made,” Cortez said.

Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and Suzanne Gamboa in Washington contributed to this report.

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5 comments

  1. What about amnesty? It is ethically and morally wrong to go after illegals who have worked here for many years and whose children were born here.

    Amnesty must be given without any strings attached or repercussions. Immunity must be granted to all those who come forward. Serious criminal activity can and should be a justifiable denial of amnesty.

  2. George, this is the problem… personal feelings or emotions do make for public policy. There are no “pardons” without strings and there should be no amnesty likewise. This issue about “anchor babies” needs to be obliterated as it is a perversion of the 14th Amendment.

    Anyone who crosses the border without the express permission of the United States is breaking immigration law, a form of criminal activity.
    Read George… http://blog.heritage.org/2009/04/20/napolitano-illegal-immigration-not-a-crime/

  3. Go home Shakira and invite Phil to join you. Our government and entertainment industry are bristling with idiots.

  4. I wish people would want to be lawful minded in the first place.
    I remember it is illegal to rob a bank, bring a weapon into a store where a sign is posted outside, No Weapons Allowed [state and local government and libraries, for instance have this sign], etc., is why I obey the law.
    I would know if I want to go to a foreign country [outside USA], to first check the requirements for legal entry to that country.
    I obey the laws because I respect the laws as a responsible citizen.
    Why people came here or still attempt to, to come to USA illegally crossing a border that is unguarded, is not understood by me.
    Why people want to violate our USA country’s laws and do, and want amnesty for the violation, is similiar to breaking any law and wanting amnesty instead of the punishment, which in the case of illegal entry to USA, is a misdemeanor, not a felony. Deportation to their country is also part of consequence and “punishment”.
    Then, to complicate their life, they choose to have children, as illegal immigrants. If caught and deported, the parents jeopardize their family unity. Why do people make these choices? Is not very logical or smart, in my view. I would not subject my future children to possibly becoming foster children, especially when the choice is avoidable in the first place>>not entering a country illegally/improperly.
    Working illegally in USA is another illegal action itself. It is not a reason for amnesty of an illegal worker. The employer hiring an illegal is also committing an illegal act. That is a AZ law for a few years now.
    It is part of the Federal Immigration Law from the beginning, to not hire illegal immigrants.

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