Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include strong denials from pro-Trump protesters of allegations they singled out dark-skinned individuals, as well as video links showing their interactions during a protest at the Capitol on Jan. 25.
Supporters of President Donald Trump singled out dark-skinned lawmakers, legislative staffers and children at the Capitol on Jan. 25 as they protested congressional efforts to pass immigration reform, according to staffers of the Arizona Legislature and two Democratic legislators.
Waving large flags in support of Trump while standing between the House and Senate buildings, the protesters, who were also armed, asked just about anyone who crossed their path if they “support illegal immigration.”
They called some “illegal” and told them to “go home,” barbs they reserved for those with brown skin, according to the staffers.
Two women who said they were part of the protest against illegal immigration at the Capitol vehemently denied accusations that they singled out dark-skinned people and accused them of being illegal immigrants.
But Lisette Flores and Selianna Robles, policy advisors for Senate Democrats, said they were yelled at when they walked from the Senate to the House lawn, directly passing the Trump supporters, to get lunch at a farmers market. Three white coworkers offered to escort Flores, Robles, and Democratic staffer Dora Ramirez back to their offices, Robles said.
“We’re walking back, and they start yelling again, ‘Get out of the country.’ At that point, they pointed to Lisette, called her an illegal, and said, ‘Get out, go back home!’” Robles said. “But they pointed at Jane (Ahern), who works for the House, and they said, ‘No, you can stay.’”
Ahern, a policy advisor for House Democrats, is white.
“I was born in California,” said Flores. “I’m obviously of Mexican descent, so I think in that group I’m the darkest one. Selianna and Dora, they’re light-skinned Latinos. So, I think probably that’s why they pointed at me out of a group of six.”
“They assume things about you. There’s not much we can do,” said Robles, an Arizona native raised in the town of San Luis. “We work for the state, we’re public servants, and we’re just here to do our job.”
Lawmakers said they were also questioned based on their appearance. Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle, said he was confronted by Trump supporters while helping defend a young student that he said was being harassed.
They asked Descheenie, a Navajo lawmaker, if he was in the United States illegally.
“I’m indigenous to these lands,” Descheenie said. “My ancestors fought and died on these lands. I just told them, ‘Don’t ask me that question.’”
Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, said he was approached by a female Trump supporter asking who he was and who he represents. For “the fun of it,” Chávez said, he replied, “I’m an undocumented legislator.” Chávez was brought from Mexico to the United States as a child.
He said he wanted the protesters “to understand that in this country, through a process, you, too, can be a part of a nation that provides opportunity to everybody. I wanted them to understand that an individual who came to this country undocumented at the age of three is now a member of the Arizona State Legislature.”
Chávez said the woman reacted by calling him “illegal.”
“She said something like, “You’re illegal. Once illegal, always illegal,” he said. “I took no offense, no attention. It was just simply one of those things where you’re going to have a stance and I’m going to have a stance and we’re never going to agree on things.”
Jennifer Caminiti-Harrison and Lesa Antone said they were at the Capitol to protest activists with Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA). The women told the Arizona Capitol Times in a phone interview tonight they’re against illegal immigration and don’t believe the LUCHA activists, who they alleged are undocumented, have the right to lobby state legislators.
In denying the allegations, Caminiti-Harrison and Antone countered that their group was harassed by the LUCHA activists. In a live stream of the protest uploaded to Facebook by Antone, a LUCHA member could be heard telling a black Trump supporter, “You’re gonna be the first to get lynched.”
“First, we were a group of several white, black and Latina Americans. To make assumptions that we were only calling out Hispanic representatives or ‘non-white’ legislatures (sic) is a disgusting, blatant lie,” Caminiti-Harrison also wrote in an email. “We also had legal immigrants visiting the Capitol who stood in solidarity with us along with Republican lawmakers who thanked us for being there and stopped for a photo.”
In a video uploaded to YouTube, Republican Reps. Jay Lawrenece, of Scottsdale, and Bob Thorpe, of Flagstaff, are seen speaking and taking photos with protesters.
“We asked every rep, white or otherwise, if they supported illegal immigration and why they put the needs of illegal immigrants over the needs of American citizens,” Caminiti-Harrison wrote. “Never at any time did we ask the representatives if they were illegals. Never.”
A 14-minute video of yesterday’s protest uploaded on YouTube shows several interactions initiated by the anti-illegal immigration protesters. Near the beginning of the video, one protester could be heard assuming that members of a group are staying illegally in the U.S.
“No, they’re not legal. They’re illegal,” a woman can be heard saying.
“Yeah, we know they’re illegal. Get legal or get out of America … They’re illegal, see that?” another woman shouted at the group.
In another part of the video, a woman can be heard confronting a group of men.
“Why do you want to stay in our country if you hate it so much?” she said.
One member of the group, a man, came back to tell the protester that she and others “need to get educated.”
They exchanged a few more words, and he said, “This land wasn’t your guys.’” She yelled at him as he walked away, “You are an illegal alien.”
When the man denied the accusation, the woman responded: “Those guys are illegal … They do not have any rights here. It is not their time. This is our time. Our nation. Our laws. Our streets.”
The video also shows what appeared to be a LUCHA activist shielding a young man who was being questioned by the protester about his stance on immigration.
“So, you also believe in ‘No border, No wall, No USA at all? Do you also believe in that? … Because if you do, why are you here? Because if you don’t support America, why are you here?” the protester said.
“He’s not talking to you,” the LUCHA activist tells the protester and unleashes a profane word. Another protester then replies, “Get legal or get out. Go in there and fill your [expletive] paper out and get legal.”
Trump supporters also disrupted a press conference hosted Thursday morning by LUCHA activists who came to the Capitol to raise awareness about legislation they’re backing.
As LUCHA Executive Director Tomas Robles spoke to a crowd of supporters in Spanish, Trump supporters could be heard shouting over him, “Go home.”
“I served five years in the Marine Corps. I fought for people’s freedoms to be able to come into this space and to be able to voice their concerns to the representatives that represent their cities and towns,” he said. “The fact that I got called an illegal, the fact that all our constituents were called so many names … every single person has a right to be here.”
Antone posted on Facebook a nearly two-hour video showing pro-Trump supporters shouting at the LUCHA activists on the subject of wages. At one point, a woman who was part of the pro-Trump group yelled at the LUCHA activists, “You don’t deserve more money just for showing up … You don’t get more money ’cause you’re brown.”
Mary Lou Sandoval, a Maryvale resident who attended the LUCHA event, later saw the protesters screaming at children who were touring the Capitol on field trips.
“[It] was a little ridiculous. You can protest peacefully as well, and you can make your own presence [felt] peacefully,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, wrote a letter to Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and Senate security officials outlining what she called the harassment of staffers who the protesters “perceived not to be white,” and complained about a lack of response from law enforcement at the scene observing the protest.
“I can tell you that the Democratic staff who were yelled at by the protesters and called illegals definitely felt harassed and were not satisfied with the response,” Hobbs wrote. “They did not feel safe.”
Hobbs said she was told by an officer on Thursday that law enforcement was instructed to stand down while the Trump supporters exercised their First Amendment rights.
Their protest went “far beyond” the First Amendment, Hobbs wrote.
“This is a public place. When armed protesters aggressively go after members, staff and visitors, there needs to be a response that ensures the safety of everyone involved,” Hobbs wrote. “I have seen instances here at the capital (sic) when peaceful protesters with a different agenda were surrounded by many more law enforcement officers with a much more aggressive response.”
“This is unacceptable,” she added.
Officials with the Department of Public Safety did not return a request for comment.
Read Hobb’s letter below.