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Protest Against SB 1070: Eyewitness Arizona: Report from the Frontlines

By James Jordan

Tucson, AZ – “They have every right to be here. This is about civil rights. And the youth are leading the way.” Those were the words of Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Richard Elias as we talked across the street from where over 100 students had gathered to protest Arizona’s SB1070 – the harshest, most anti-immigrant legislation in the country.

The bill would turn Arizona into an apartheid state, requiring people to carry proof of citizenship on their person at all times – reminiscent of the hated passbook laws in segregated South Africa. While the law doesn’t explicitly state that requirement, it gives local and state police the authority to detain and investigate anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. In other words, any Latino-looking person who is speaking Spanish can be arrested if they are not carrying identification on their person. The bill includes a number of other repressive components, including provisions to sue governmental agencies for not enforcing immigration laws aggressively enough, requiring citizenship checks for all government services, making it illegal to solicit day labor or to hire day laborers and outlawing churches and government entities from offering sanctuary or instructing local police to not enforce immigration laws.

What perhaps was not foreseen by the architects and proponents of this bill is that it would cause a groundswell of opposition that is radicalizing those who are taking to the streets in struggle. People are mad and they are also energized.

On April 20, some 100 students from four Tucson schools walked out in protest of SB1070. Before the walk-out occurred, police vehicles circled the school, with at least a couple of officers stationed on bikes when the walkout was beginning. According to one Tucson High student, the school administration tried to prevent students from leaving, with all the gates, entrances and exits locked. However, they had to open a gate to let students and cars in at one point, at which time the student explained, “We all went through. They had to let us – there were too many of us. I was jumping over people to get by!” Once off school grounds, police did not interfere with the students’ march.

Later at a rally at the State Building in Tucson, the spirit was palpable. From two blocks away you could hear the students shouting: “Whose land? Our land! Whose state? Our state! Whose desert? Our desert! Whose family? Our family!” There may have been 100 students, but they sounded like many more!

On April 22, there were many more actions, with more than 1000 students walking out of five Phoenix high schools. One of the most amazing things about these walkouts has been that they have not been organized or called by any organizations or regular ‘movement’ channels. Instead, they were completely student run, the word spread via text messaging, facebook and other forms of social networking.

That’s how it has been, from Nogales on the border to Tucson to Phoenix and beyond – people are taking to the streets and getting ready for what everyone knows is going to be a protracted struggle.

The spark to the fire was set April 15, just two days after the House passed SB1070, when 800 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, with the cooperation of local, state and, across the border, Mexican authorities, undertook the largest raid in ICE’s seven year history. Communities in several Arizona cities were subject to a military style invasion, complete with helicopters and officers armed with heavy weaponry. People were pulled off shuttle services and city bus lines and investigated for the simple suspicious act of looking Latino. One person, a Mexican immigrant and activist, was detained and questioned while handing out “Know Your Rights” fliers.

On April, 19, a group of nine college students from Phoenix and Tucson were arrested and detained overnight, after chaining themselves together at the State Capitol to protest the legislation. Since then, there have been daily protests going on at the capitol and in other cities. What is clear is that the movement is growing and ready for the fight.

Editors note: SB 1070 was signed into law, Friday April 23. Protests are under way in Arizona.

#TucsonAZ #ChicanoLatino #ImmigrationAndCustomsEnforcementICE #SB1070