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Ariz. immigration law spurs protesters

Police say about 50,000 rallied in Los Angeles

Ann Arbor, Mich., was the scene of one of many rallies. Ann Arbor, Mich., was the scene of one of many rallies. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
By Sophia Tareen
Associated Press / May 2, 2010

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CHICAGO — Activists said outrage over Arizona’s controversial immigration law “awakened a sleeping giant’’ as tens of thousands rallied yesterday to demand federal immigration reform yesterday in cities across the country, including Boston.

In New York, labor organizer John Delgado said anger over the law, which requires local law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally, drew more than 6,000 people to a rally at Manhattan’s Foley Square.

“She’s awakened a sleeping giant,’’ Delgado said, referring to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, who signed the law.

Police said more than 50,000 rallied in Los Angeles, where singer Gloria Estefan kicked off a massive downtown march to demand immigration reform and protest the Arizona law. Estefan spoke in Spanish and English atop a flatbed truck, proclaiming the United States is a nation of immigrants. She said immigrants are good, hardworking people, not criminals.

Cardinal Roger Mahony stood on the truck chanting in Spanish, “Si, se puede,’’ or “Yes we can.’’

Organizers believe opposition to the law could be the catalyst to draw tens of thousands to rallies in dozens of cities. Four years ago, more than a million people across the country united to protest ultimately unsuccessful federal legislation that would have made being an illegal immigrant a felony.

Thousands of immigrant rights activists joined a rally in East Boston yesterday, which followed a march that began in Everett and passed through Chelsea. Among the other major cities with rallies were Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.

Immigration reform advocates have seen a flurry of activity since Brewer signed the Arizona measure into law last week.

“What happened in Arizona proves that racism and anti-immigrant hysteria across the country still exists. We need to continue to fight,’’ said Lee Siu Hin, a coordinator with the Washington, D.C.-based National Immigrant Solidarity Network.

Activists are mobilizing through online social networking, churches, and ethnic media. They have called for a boycott of Arizona businesses and have protested outside Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games.

Supporters say the law is necessary because of the federal government’s failure to secure the border, and they pointed to an attack Friday on a sheriff’s deputy in southern Arizona as proof something had to be done.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office said Deputy Louie Puroll was shot and wounded after coming across suspected drug smugglers about 50 miles south of Phoenix. Authorities said they have captured 17 suspected illegal immigrants in southern Arizona as they continued their search for the smugglers. The deputy was released from the hospital, and was recovering at home.

Brewer said the attack on the deputy shows a growing problem with a porous border. “The horrendous violence we see by narco-terrorists is uncontrolled, and our own federal government refuses to fulfill its responsibility to secure our border,’’ she said.

Critics of the law say it’s unconstitutional and encourages racial profiling and discrimination against anyone thought to be an immigrant. They say that without federal legislation to address the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, other states may follow Arizona’s lead.

“If Republicans and Democrats do not take care of this albatross around our necks, this will in fact be the undoing of many, many years of civil rights struggle in this country,’’ said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, where organizers expected tens of thousands to march downtown yesterday.

President Obama once promised to tackle immigration reform in his first 100 days, but has pushed back that timetable several times. He said this week that Congress may lack the “appetite’’ to take on immigration after going through a tough legislative year. However, Obama and Congress could address related issues, like boosting personnel and resources for border security, in spending bills this year.

Activists aren’t alone in their opposition to Arizona’s law.

California legislators have mulled canceling contracts with Arizona in protest. Denver’s public schools department has banned work-related travel to Arizona. And several legal challenges, preventing the bill from going into effect this summer, are in the works.

Immigrant rights activists and politicians also say they’re stepping up other forms of action. US Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat who has sponsored a House immigration bill, said he planned to participate in civil disobedience at the White House yesterday.