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Demonstrators and counter-protesters take to the streets in Arizona [Updated]

May 1, 2010 | 11:34 am

In Arizona, just before starting to march from South Tucson to Armory Park, immigrant rights organizers and protesters released a flock of doves and hundreds of white balloons.

Demonstrators gathered in front of a local ballroom where weddings and quinceaneras are typically celebrated. Aztec dancers performed and people, many wearing the white T-shirts that became the emblem of massive immigrant rights protests in 2006, carried signs denouncing SB 1070, the new Arizona law that requires police to check the legal status of anyone they suspect to be an illegal immigrant.

David Herrera, 38, of Tucson stood under a red, white and blue umbrella. He came to the rally with his wife and two children to denounce legislation he believes threatens all Latinos and makes him fear for his own family.

"This law condemns my children's future," he said. "They can stay," he said pointing at his son and daughter, "but I cannot."

Across the street from Armory Park, where a march that had swelled to several thousand was scheduled to end, a couple dozen counter-protesters gathered to denounce the march. They carried signs that said "Deport Illegal Mexicans," "Remember the Alamo, Mexico," "Boycott Mexico" and "Mexico out of US."

Claudia White, 56, of Tucson, a naturalized Mexican immigrant who organized the counter-protest, said she supported SB 1070 because she worries about the consequences of what she called "open border policies" and feels recent immigrants identify more as a group and not as individuals.
Recent immigrants, she said, show "less of an interest in how this country was originally set up -- where everybody is an individual and doesn't identify as part of a group or a bloc or a race."

As she finished speaking, organizers of the anti-SB1070 march began blasting the music of Los Tigres del Norte through loud speakers, drowning out the counter-protests.

Outside the state capitol in Phoenix, a few dozen confused protesters milled about. The demonstration there was initially scheduled to start at 10 a.m. but organizers abruptly put out word that it had been moved to 3 p.m.

The demonstrators carried signs reading "Don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo Hypocrites" and "What does 'illegal' look like?" Yvette Carrillo, 23, and Ruhama Romero, 24, both customer service reps from Phoenix and U.S. citizens, idled in the shade of a palm tree.

They were cheered by reports of big turnouts in Los Angeles. "It's good to hear we're not alone," Romero said.

[Updated, 11:45 a.m.: By 11 a.m., the crowd outside the state Capitol had grown to a few hundred. One Los Angeles-based group, which identified itself as Mexica Movement, pulled out a bullhorn and offered members of the crowd a chance to speak.

Karla Medina, 24, an instructor in a traffic school, warned the predominantly Latino crowd that authorities could easily invent reasons to stop them. "They say there's not going to be any racial profiling, but it's coming," she said.

Manuel de Jesus Hernandez, a professor at Arizona State University who teaches Mexican American literature, said the law is a reminder that Arizona was founded in the 19th century by people who sought to join the slaveholding south. "The people who founded Arizona believed in slavery and their roots are coming back," he said.

In an interview, Hernandez said the crowd was relatively small because of widespread fear among illegal immigrants that they'd be arrested by local authorities who increasingly try to enforce federal immigration laws.

"The undocumented have lived in fear for two years," he said. "Now you have the fear coming to U.S. citizens and legal residents."

Geronimo Ramirez, a 45-year-old legal resident from Mexico, wore a black-and-white jail jumpsuit, a Mexican sombrero bedecked with two U.S. flags and a star of David on his sleeve. He said the Arizona bill is remniscent of racially oriented laws from Nazi Germany.

"They think we're all drug traffickers, they think we're all criminals," Ramirez, who is studying to become a dialysis aide, told the crowd in Spanish. "They think we're coming here to rob this country. That's not true. There are many people who have come here to work hard, pay their taxes ... help this country grow."

He pulled out a Spanish-language paperback Bible and cried: "How can you ignore what's in the Bible -- treat your neighbor as you would be treated yourself."

At one point, an Anglo man approached the crowd, talking in support of the law. Members of the Los Angeles group, who said they supported indigenous rights, chased him away, yelling through their bullhorn "go back to Europe!"]

--Paloma Esquivel in Tucson and Nicholas Riccardi in Phoenix