Joining scores of allies in cities across the nation, tens of thousands of protesters gathered at Lafayette Park near the White House on Saturday, May 1 to agitate for the reform of immigration laws and to protest the passage in Arizona of tough new immigration laws that protesters say specifically target hispanics– regardless of their legal status.
Chanting “Todos Somos Arizona!” (We are all Arizona!) and “Obama escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (Obama listen! We are in the struggle!), the energetic and raucous crowd enjoyed support from a diverse coalition of community organizations and unions. Brought together under the banner of rights for immigrants and an end to racism against Hispanics were Tenants and Workers United, CASA de Maryland, Mexicanos Sin Fronteras, The SEIU and LiUNA.
Outraged over Obama’s stalling and congressional inaction on reforming the country’s current immigration legislation, protesters reserved most of their anger for the legislature of Arizona and the passage of authoritarian legislation that essentially makes it a crime for anyone to be without multiple forms of identification papers in the state of Arizona. Painted as institutionalized racial profiling, protesters objected to the worsening anti-immigrant and anti-hispanic climate in the US. Organizers coordinated a sit-in at the front gate of the White House, where forty people were arrested, including US Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Illinois). Police clearly did not expect the level of crowd energy present at the rally, as mounted officers were virtually marooned inside a police cordon, while the arrestees had to be led to their containment vehicle down a gauntlet of press photographers and vocal supporters of those being arrested. Crowd noise was so intense at times that mounted officers’ horses were routinely spooked; officers struggled to maintain control over their mounts.
The atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive, with attendees expressing a willingness to extend their struggle if the continued stalling over immigration reform results in more needlessly destroyed families. Protesters also vowed to continue and extend their economic boycott of Arizona, promising similar treatment if similar legislation is passed elsewhere.
Jan Brewer and the Arizona legislature have unwittingly solidified the bond between Hispanic advocacy groups, human rights organizations and labor unions into a nascent pro-immigrant movement. Notably absent was any form of visible counter protest by anti-immigrant groups. Perhaps they realize the true racist nature of these draconian immigration laws– and don’t want to be called out on it by groups like us!