For Irene Chavez, a retired teacher from Fountain Hills, the battle against Arizona’s new immigration law is the new front of the civil rights movement.
“We stepped back into the 1960s,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times outside the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse in downtown Phoenix.
Inside, a judge heard arguments for and against S1070, the law that requires police, during lawful stop, detention or arrest, to check a person’s immigration status if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the country illegally.
“We were fighting for civil rights then. We’re fighting for civil rights now,” she said.
Convinced that the new law would target Hispanics, she came to the courthouse to protest it and lend support to legal challenges seeking to halt its implementation before July 29.
“Reasonable suspicion is you’re dark or brown,” she said. “If you’re chocolate, that’s reasonable suspicion.”
Chavez, a member of the advocacy group Somos America, was one of about 150 people who gathered in Phoenix to support or oppose the Arizona law.
In a way, the protesters outside the courthouse represented the spectrum of feelings and opinions about the legislation that has already spawned calls and boycotts against Arizona, stirred up passionate debates across the country and led people to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars for the law’s defense.
Their placards and t-shirts said it all, and some, not content with signs, brought megaphones and banged drums to drive home their points.
One sign around a man’s neck read: “I just arrived in the USA and I have no documents.”
A few paces from him, another man carried this sign: “No injunction!
The law is the law.”
Leah Carnine sold T-shirts that stated defiantly: “We will not comply.”
Indeed, the passion of the protesters was subdued only by an overcast Phoenix sky.
But while the passion was intense, the protests were peaceful. People from both sides of the debate even mingled with each other.
The police were there just in case.
Plainclothes officers, for example, quickly moved in when some protesters exchanged words. Their show of force had the desired effect; it was enough to lower people’s blood pressure.
Not all exchanges were tense — or loud.
Pancho Ramos, who described himself as a “peacekeeper” from the San Francisco Bay Area, was engaged in an animated discussion with Bryan Berkland, who is from Phoenix.
Berkland, who supports S1070, was trying to explain to Ramos the basis for that support.
“I think this is pivotal (in terms of) what rights the states have,”
he told the Capitol Times.
Berkland said the legislation has nothing to do with race.
“They broke the law. End of story,” he said.
Ramos posed a rhetorical question: “Do you think the people on board the Mayflower were illegals?”
On a philosophical level, Ramos argued that any law that is wrong should be broken. He cited the case of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger helped spark the civil rights movement.
“The trick is how do we break that law? We need to break it in a non-violent way,” he said.
The two agreed on several issues and disagreed on others.
But they seemed to have found a way to listen and to appreciate each other’s viewpoint.
The conversation ended in a hug, the two moved on, and the protests continued.