Immigration continued to dominate the political conversation Saturday at a rally with U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, in a town hall with U.S. Sen. John McCain - and in a Twitter posting from President Obama.
As many as 400 people - some carrying signs with slogans like "Deport the Arizona Legislature. They are the Real Danger to Our Community," and "This is what happens when we don't vote" - showed up at Grijalva's campaign headquarters on South Stone Avenue to protest Arizona's new immigration law, which authorizes police during any lawful contact to determine a person's legal status if reasonable suspicion exists.
Just as Republicans hope health-care reform will galvanize their voters for the November elections, opponents of the immigration law hope it will serve as a catalyst for their voters. Every speaker at the Grijalva rally implored the crowd to get organized and vote. And several applauded Grijalva's call for conventions to boycott Arizona.
The crowd cheered students who took to the streets for demonstrations. And they cheered when they heard the American Immigration Lawyers Association canceled its fall convention in Scottsdale, issuing a statement saying, "We cannot in good conscience spend association dollars in a state that dehumanizes the people we represent and fight for."
Richard Elías, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, echoed statements by a litany of speakers that the law will infringe on civil rights. "Yesterday, people of color lost their right to due process here in Arizona," he said, while City Council member Regina Romero called Friday "one of the darkest days in Arizona."
Brewer's signature came even as former Arizona governor and now Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in interviews Friday "the border itself is more under control than it has ever been."
And the president, who has already said he will look into the civil rights implication of the law, sent out a "tweet" early Saturday afternoon saying the law "threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."
That's what worries 23-year-old Iliana Vargas, a research technician at the Grijalva rally. "It's racial profiling. There's no other way to look at it. I just see Arizona going backward."
And 21-year-old university student Jaimie Jackson said she wasn't mollified by Brewer's assurance of more officer training or of the law's language that legal status can be questioned only during a "lawful contact." "They can stop you for anything," she said, saying it's inconvenient for people to have to carry important registration documents at all times, even for quick trips to the mall or the grocery store.
Grijalva, a Democrat, said the economic boycott will be trivial compared with the money Arizona will lose in tourism and retail sales. And he called on Congress to "show the spine and the humanity to reform immigration laws," warning that otherwise, the new law will be a harbinger of things to come in other states.
He also continued his call for the U.S. government to refuse to cooperate. Since federal law has supremacy, he said, if the federal government refuses to detain or process the cases, then the new law is moot. He called for a "cleansing" at the state Legislature, which he said for too long has been tolerated as "silly extremists."
"Well, they're silly, but they're dangerous," he said, urging the crowd to continue nonviolent opposition.
Across town, about 80 people came to a McCain town hall where immigration also dominated the discussion.
Although McCain had sounded a note of support for the bill, calling it a "good tool" for law enforcement, he stopped short of fully endorsing the measure. "I haven't had a chance to look at all the aspects, but I do understand why the Legislature would act," he said. Even though it wasn't clear to him "whether all of it is legal or not," he said state lawmakers "acted out of frustration because the federal government didn't do its job."
He spoke of his 10-point plan to do that, including boosting border troops, paying them more, finishing the fence, improving communications equipment and giving more resources to local law enforcement.
Several in the crowd said they support the new law and expressed frustration about the lack of border enforcement.
Bob Foy, a 68-year-old retired lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said holes in border enforcement are allowing the free flow of narcotics and weapons into the country. "We're in such imminent danger that we don't have another 100 years to get this straight," he said. The new law, while "not the perfect answer, is an answer," he said.
One woman said she lives near the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which is being "trashed" by border crossers. Another said her daughter's boyfriend is an illegal immigrant who has been in prison three times and keeps coming back.
One man chimed in that he was concerned about the mood, saying he was getting a vibe of animosity toward Mexican people in general.
McCain responded, "I am worried about anti-Hispanic feeling in this country, and I am concerned about condemning good, honest citizens of Hispanic origin because of this (immigration) problem." He noted Tucson was a Spanish-speaking city before it was English and he cherished the Latino heritage.
But pointing to the murder of rancher Robert Krentz, he said border problems need to be addressed not only for citizens here but for immigrants, who aren't protected under American laws and are preyed upon by criminal elements.
Pressed by one woman to call Grijalva's boycott irresponsible, McCain said he strongly disagrees with it, especially since the economy is hurting.
McCain, a Republican who has previously backed efforts to strengthen border security while creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, has been speaking almost exclusively about border security this election season. The primary race pits him against former U.S. Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is painting himself as the more conservative option.
McCain's border stance sits just fine with 60-year-old Patricia Patterson, a concierge. "I was on the fence about a few things, and then I saw him shift away from amnesty, and that brought me back to his side," she said.
Meanwhile, 29-year-old film student Omar Martinez said he's leaning toward McCain also. "I was crushed by the new law," he said. While he's fearful that people of Mexican descent like himself will be made scapegoats, particularly given deep economic frustrations, he said he was pleased with McCain's comments respecting his culture.
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or email@example.com