Photo: Lori M. Connelly
The sun was brutally beating down on the west side of the red brick building housing the Maricopa County Jail Friday afternoon as a large group of people emerged from the metal doors. They were being released from custody after their arrests on Thursday for protesting Arizona's SB 1070. Waiting there on the sidewalk with me were a few members from the media and protesters who had not been arrested the day before.
National media representatives from CNN, NBC, NPR, and Telemundo were parked across from the State Capitol building, which had been the focus on Thursday as thousands marched the streets of Phoenix to protest Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 going into effect. Even though the senate bill was to become effective Thursday, an injunction was placed on it Wednesday by federal judge Susan Bolton, prohibiting the law from going into full effect as it was intended.
Officers Sound Off
Due to conditions of employment, law enforcement officers cannot make comments about political issues. I was able to hear officers' perspectives on what is going on in Arizona, but I must protect them by not using their names. I know my position in obtaining this information is special since I was an officer myself until April of this year when I left my department. One reason I left was because I wasn't allowed to write about any issue freely without causing a problem for myself or the department.
One officer thought most of the protesters were here illegally and felt it was unfair that they were able to block streets, disturb the peace, and create an environment in the city that was elevating tensions between those who support SB 1070 and those who are against it.
Another officer thought most of the protesters in Thursday's march had just shown up to be a part of something but were mostly here legally. He knew some of the protestors were organized and had been planning the march for a while: "This is more of a federal issue anyway," the officer said. "The state is stuck in the middle of it because no one else is willing to step up and deal with illegal immigration."
One officer's comment may sum up this issue most accurately for law enforcement: "The federal judge has already made her ruling on this. It is now out of our hands. It is up to the Ninth Circuit Court what happens from here."
This may indeed be the state of things, except that Arizona's Gov. Jan Brewer appears to be reconsidering the law in response to the events of the past week as well as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' order late Friday saying that it will hold a hearing on Gov. Brewer's challenge the first week in November. Due to the injunction Gov. Brewer said she is considering tweaking the law.
For law enforcement, the comments of the last officer appear to be where this issue is truly at. It is not in the hands of each officer right now as far as what is going on, but it will come back around sooner or later. Then law enforcement will need to be concerned.
Friday evening, a candlelight vigil was held at the capitol led by a group who supports the new immigration law. The "Stand with Arizona" vigil was legally organized by Riders USA, a group which was there to not only show support for the law, but also to remember officers who have been killed in the line of duty by illegal immigrants and to honor recently slain Chandler, Ariz., Officer Carlos Ledesma, who was killed in the line of duty on July 28 during an undercover drug deal.
When I spoke with members of this group they were wearing firearms in holsters on their hips along with general motorcycle apparel. To the public these people may appear intimidating but they were very forthright in stating why they were at the Capitol.
One member of this group, which by some would be labeled a "Tea Party" group, was Albert Fernandez. Along with other members in the group, he supports SB 1070 because he believes it's necessary that Arizona have a law to help combat illegal immigration.
Fernandez has a son currently serving in the military and is concerned about the current unemployment rate. He believes undocumented workers and the financial pressures they and their families have put on cities and states have been a major factor in this. He is worried that when his son returns home there won't be a job for him or other Americans who have given so much for their nation.
The members of this group all felt strongly that SB 1070 was important to preserve family values by keeping the state from being flooded by undocumented workers. Tom Tardy, another Riders USA member, said, "It used to be that a man could have four children and support his whole family with one job. Now both husband and wife have to work and still can't make ends meet."
This group had nothing radical to say, but were very serious about doing what they could to encourage and support laws to protect legal residents of the United States.