Jorge Mera, Resident Alien
In front of the capitol I met Jorge Mera, who had traveled from New Mexico to be in Phoenix for these events. He came to the United States legally in the late 1960s to work and then obtained his resident alien status a couple of years after that. Mera was dressed in a suit and tie and wasn't so much at the Capitol to protest or support SB 1070 as he was there to encourage both sides to listen carefully to each other and act with respect.
"In Mexico, no one would ever stand outside of the jail and yell like they have been doing here," said Mera. "It isn't allowed there and people know the police would come out and grab you. It isn't like it is here. People need to appreciate that they can speak openly about how they feel and what they believe, but when there is yelling and acting like they did when the arrests were made no one is listening. It is like that saying, 'Your actions are so loud, I cannot hear what you are saying.'"
Alejandro Andres, in U.S. on Work Visa
Also at the Capitol was Alejandro Andres from Guatemala. He is here legally and was proud to show me his documents. He said in order to obtain his work visa he had used an attorney recommended to him by friends. It cost him about $5,000 in U.S. currency. He wants to become a full-time legal United States citizen but that would cost about $10,000 more and he doesn't believe he will have that for some time - especially with the current economic conditions.
Andres is employed in construction and is working on becoming a legally licensed roofer so he can eventually own his own roofing company. He said that even though he is here legally he still doesn't support SB 1070 because there is a great deal of confusion already with legal status in the United States. He would like to see another answer for this problem.
Some of the risks people from other countries deal with even when they have the proper documents include varying laws between states, theft from undocumented workers who cannot obtain proper papers on their own, and officers who do not know which documents are real and which ones are fraudulent. As a result of this, an officer may take documents which are legal from workers, causing them to be without identification or proof that they legally have a right to be present and working in the United States during any sort of police contact.
Andres said that when he obtained his work visa he was advised not to go back to Guatemala because he may end up not being allowed to return to the United States. He said he knew this when he paid $5,000 to be here legally but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. He also knew then this meant he wouldn't be able to see his family for at least 11 years. "I love my work, I want to work hard. It is good," he said.
Andres and thousands like him do not want to be arrested or cause problems at all. They simply want to be in the United States legally and work.
Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo from Boston, was one of the protesters released from jail Friday afternoon. She had been in Phoenix to march last May and was part of the group "Standing on the Side of Love," who were well organized and had planned the civil disobedience that led to their arrests.
Rev. von Zirpolo was one of several pastors from the Unitarian Universalist church who said they had come to Arizona to protest SB 1070 because of the human cost.
"One woman had come down here because she said she had to do something to help make this change. She had been the wife of a U.S. resident and the marriage ended in domestic violence," said von Zirpolo. "Because of her status as an undocumented worker she lost custody of her children to her ex-husband. She has no rights and this family, like many others, has been pulled apart. She doesn't call the police when she is beaten or something is wrong because she is afraid they will take her away."
All of the people I interviewed who had been arrested were looking at the human cost of SB 1070 and felt it was racist. It seemed to target the Latino community more than anyone else. Their feelings were that most of the people who were undocumented workers were here in the United States because conditions where they had come from were so poor that they were willing to live in a constant state of fear of having their families torn apart. People simply couldn't afford or didn't have the resources to allow them to be here legally.
Instead of SB 1070, Rev. von Zirpolo would like to see another answer to these problems. One that addresses the poor conditions people are fleeing and perhaps a more accessible way for people to be legally documented.
When I asked the crowd outside the jail if they knew if anyone who was arrested with them was an illegal alien, I was given many passionate responses: "People are not illegal." "We don't call them illegal aliens; they are undocumented workers." "We don't ask anyone if they are here legally, or illegally. We are all just people."
I'll be interested to see how this unfolds. Let me know what you think about the bill and the protests by adding a comment below.