Officers, Protesters Voice Opinions on SB 1070 in Phoenix

Lori M. Connelly spoke with a diverse group of people outside the Maricopa County Jail to hear their perspectives on the Arizona immigration law that's been the focus of so much debate, and was the reason for massive protests and arrests in Phoenix last week.

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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.

Bill Supporters

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.

[PAGEBREAK]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.

Bill Protester

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.

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Officer (Ret.)
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