PHOENIX (Reuters) - A few hundred protesters, some toting placards reading “Migration is a Human Right,” marched in Phoenix on Saturday to protest Arizona’s two-year-old crackdown on illegal immigration.
State law SB-1070, signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010, seeks to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona.
A federal judge blocked parts of the law before it took effect, but the U.S. Supreme Court late last month upheld its most controversial provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop if they suspect they are in the country illegally.
“I feel like we’re singled out,” said Angel Diaz, 33, an artist among 200 to 300 mostly Hispanic protesters rallying in a park ahead of the protest march.
“We’re being racially profiled. Pretty much I feel that our rights are being taken from us,” he added. He was wearing a Mexican wrestler’s mask and a broad brimmed sombrero.
Diaz, a Hispanic who said he is a U.S. citizen, said he was followed and pulled over by police in the Phoenix valley a week ago in a traffic stop that did not result in charges.
Protesters, some chanting “this is what democracy looks like” and wearing T-shirts reading “We will not comply - Down with SB 1070,” set off on the one-mile (1.6 kilometer) walk to the headquarters of federal immigration police in the city.
In a mixed ruling late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state law’s most controversial measure - requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone detained and suspected of being in the country illegally - but struck down three other parts.
Supporters of the crackdown argue it is needed as the federal government has failed to secure the state’s porous border with Mexico.
The administration of President Barack Obama opposed the law on the grounds it pre-empted federal powers on immigration, and opponents say it is a mandate for racially profiling Hispanics, who make up almost a third of the state’s population.
March organizer Carlos Garcia said demonstrators seek to pressure the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, not to partner with local police forces that implement immigration laws.
“When a police officer can ask to determine if someone has documents or not, that’s when racially profiling, racism (arises)” he said. “That’s what we’re opposed to.”
The rally and march come as a hardline Arizona sheriff and his office are on trial in federal court in Phoenix in a civil lawsuit that accuses them of racial profiling.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who styles himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” is accused of singling out Hispanic citizens and immigrants in traffic stops in the Phoenix valley, a charge he denies.
Natally Cruz, 24, a Mexican undocumented immigrant, was among four people arrested by police for blocking a road outside the U.S. District Court in Phoenix last Tuesday when Arpaio testified in court.
“We want to show Arpaio that we are not afraid of him,” Cruz, who was quizzed by ICE agents about her immigration status but was released, told the protest crowd.
“Many of us have been living in fear for years ... Enough is enough,” she said.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Vicki Allen