Arizona immigration law’s supporters, opponents rally outside Supreme Court

Medill News ServiceApril 25, 2012 

— “Los immigrantes, somos importantes!” protesters chanted Wednesday outside the Supreme Court. Immigrants, we are important.

Others carried signs that said, “Exporting illegals = importing jobs for Americans!”

Inside the Supreme Court building, the justices heard arguments in a case that could overturn Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The two-year-old law requires local police to determine the residency status of anyone they stop if they suspect the person is an illegal immigrant.

Opponents of the law say it amounts to racial profiling.

“I think it’s offensive that this is how Arizona is being represented in the United States,” said Katie Benton-Cohen, a Georgetown University history professor who’s originally from Tempe, Ariz., where her family has lived for more than 100 years.

“My family’s all in construction. Everybody works with immigrants,” Benton-Cohen said. “My grandfather was fluent in Spanish. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe.”

CASA of Maryland, an advocacy group for Central Americans and U.S. natives of Central American origin, made one of the biggest showings outside the court, with nearly a hundred protesters in identical white T-shirts.

Those who support the law also came to rally. The American Council for Immigration Reform set up a podium where proponents of the law spoke. At one point, a woman led a sing-along of “God Bless America.”

“Right now we’ve got millions of Americans out of work, so we can’t afford to support all of these illegals who came here illegally, who are taking up jobs that Americans could be doing now,” said John Balazek, an unemployed steel worker who’s originally from Riverdale, Md.

“They’re overwhelming our culture,” he said. “You can’t even go to the grocery store, because nothing’s in English. I’ve seen the place where I grew up turn into a Third World country.”

Opponents of the law said their presence outside the Supreme Court was about more than staging a protest, it was also a way to draw attention to their own experiences thousands of miles from the Mexican border.

“If I ever go to (the affluent Washington suburb of) Bethesda, there are certain looks,” said Heidi Rosales, a University of Maryland student. “Just going to the grocery store and getting that look like, ‘You’re not supposed to be here. You’re supposed to be in another neighborhood,’ it hurts.”

Rosales is the daughter of a Guatemalan immigrant who crossed the border illegally and cleaned houses in Montgomery County, Md., to support her family. She’s just trying to make a better life for herself, she said.

“The fact is, America is changing. It’s a growing population. But ‘browning,’ as you can call it, it’s not a wrong thing.”

The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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