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1 day in jail for Arizona immigration protesters

Salvador Reza, middle, talks with his lawyer Antonio Bustamante, left, as Rev. Peter Morales looks on as they stand in front of Maricopa County Justice Court Friday, July 29, 2011, in Phoenix, prior to heading into trail on civil disobedience charges. Reza, Morales and more than 80 others were arrested for blocking the entrance of the Maricopa County jail in downtown Phoenix as they protested Arizona's immigration law SB1070 last year. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A judge on Tuesday sentenced more than a dozen immigrant rights advocates to one day in jail stemming from a protest last year over Arizona’s controversial immigration law, but they got credit for the day they spent behind bars at the time of their arrest.

Justice of the Peace David Seyer handed down the sentence about three weeks after finding the group of protesters guilty of a misdemeanor charge of disobeying police orders. They had faced up to four months in jail and a maximum $700 fine.

The group was arrested July 29, 2010, when dozens of protesters took to Phoenix streets on the day Arizona’s new immigration law was set to take effect. They also were speaking out against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who organized an immigration patrol the day the law took effect.

The protesters massed outside one of Arpaio’s jails, beating on a metal door and forcing sheriff’s deputies to call for backup. Officers in riot gear opened the doors, waded into the crowd and hauled off those who didn’t move.

A judge ended up putting the most contentious parts of the law on hold. The dispute over the law will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among the protesters was the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association. Morales lives in Arvada, Colo., and Salem, Mass., and was elected as the first Latino president of the association in 2009.

“The sentence was as lenient as it could be without dismissing the charges,” Morales told The Associated Press from Arvada after attending the hearing by phone. “So I believe that the judge was clearly moved and affected by the character and the idealism and the comportment of the defendants.”

Arpaio said regardless of the length of the sentence, he’s happy the judge found the demonstrators guilty.

“I’m not going to criticize the judge,” he said. “Let’s just say it’s a conviction and it sends a message out that anybody that violates a law is going to be arrested and go to jail.”

The sheriff said Morales and the other protesters are welcome to sit down with him in his office anytime to discuss illegal immigration.

But, Arpaio said, “If he violates the law, he will be arrested. Period.”

Morales said he had no immediate plans to return to Phoenix for a protest, but he said the Unitarian Universalist Association was holding its general assembly in Phoenix next June and will hold an immigration protest at that time.

“Joe Arpaio hasn’t seen anything yet,” Morales said. “We will make our disagreement and displeasure known.”

He said the protest likely wouldn’t involve the kind of civil disobedience that led to his arrest last year.

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