Arizona immigration bill: Removing one word won't stop Colorado protests, advocate says

Last Friday, we previewed a student walkout decrying the controversial new Arizona immigration law.

On Saturday, the events continued here and in several other locations across the state. These get-togethers were well attended everywhere, says Chandra Russo of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, with the Denver numbers reaching five figures by her estimate. And last night, another rally was held at Aurora's Geo Detention Center, marking one year's worth of demonstrations there; read our piece about the December protest for more details.

Russo promises that the campaign will continue, despite minor tweaks in the Arizona law.

Among other things, Arizona lawmakers removed the word "solely" from a passage relating to the use of race in questioning the citizenship status of individuals stopped by law-enforcement officers. Supporters of the measure argue this and similar alterations make it clear the bill forbids racial profiling. But Russo isn't buying that.

"I think first of all we need to look at the fact that we've had a really belligerent abuse of power on the part of Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County," she says. "They didn't need legislation to racially profile folks and use abusive law-enforcement tactics. Amending the legislation by one word may make it look like the other side had made a good-faith effort, but we know that whenever police are called upon to increase inquiries into immigration status, no matter how you write about race in the legislation itself, it's simply an impossible task to do it without profiling."

Likewise, Russo is unimpressed by comments from Arizona gubernatorial candidate J.D. Hayworth, who argues that those of Hispanic descent won't be singled out by police, since other ethnic groups are coming into the state illegally, including those of Chinese descent. "That doesn't prove there's no racial profiling," she maintains. "It sounds like the racial profiling would just be expanded to include other nonwhite communities."

If that's the case, Russo believes such actions will only inspire more protests of the sort that have taken place in recent days. Of the Friday walkouts, she says, "It's really impressive and inspiring what young people will do when they set their mind to it. The protest was orchestrated by high school and college students who decided they were unwilling to silently watch this injustice being perpetrated in Arizona.

"I don't think any school administrators could outwardly sanction a school walkout, but with DPS deciding not to send staff to Arizona for work travel, there was kind of an understanding from school administration that this wasn't going to be a reason for students to get in trouble."

Various student groups gathered at the Capitol on Friday: "I'd say there were between 500 and 800 students," she notes. "There was a lot of energy, and a lot of well-spoken youth talking about why they were there, why they walked out, why Arizona is an unacceptable situation, and why we need immigration reform."

The next day's event in Denver "started as a rally," she continues, "with different people who've been effected by the immigration system for different reasons coming together. And the crowd kept growing and growing. About 25 minutes into the program, I asked a police officer for a crowd estimate, and he said, 'Maybe 2,000 now, but come back to me later, because people are pouring in.' And by the time we decided as a group to march, I'd say there were around 10,000."

In addition, smaller rallies in Boulder, Longmont, Yuma, Glenwood Springs and Montrose drew crowds in the hundreds. The totals were certainly large enough to get the attention of lawmakers, Russo feels -- and while "the political process is complex, and it's hard to tell how our politicians are going to react," she's pleased that "our senators in Colorado took leadership and wrote a letter to the President and the Senate even before we took 10,000 people into the street. We certainly hope and expect our leaders will respond to that kind of show of numbers."

There'll be more such events to come. In terms of future protests, there's nothing firm slated at present: "I think we're going to take a second to catch our breath," she says. However, she adds, "We'll certainly have something new in the next week or two."

And considering the passion surrounding this issue, those rallies could dwarf the ones staged to date.

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