Students Angered at Arizona’s Controversial New Immigration Enforcement Law

Apr 23, 2010 5:09pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Lindsey Reiser blogs: The temperatures aren’t the only thing heating up in Arizona; the national immigration debate is coming to a head in Phoenix, AZ. Today, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070. Primarily sponsored by state senator Russell Pearce (R), the bill was touted by critics as one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in the country. It cracks down on illegal immigration in the state — possibly prompting other states to follow suit. Specifically, it allows law enforcement officials to demand proof of legal residency from anyone who they suspect might be an illegal immigrant. Opponents of the new law say it is legalizing racial profiling and describe it as a regression to the pre-civil rights era. Proponents say it will allow Arizona to take a more proactive role in a growing national problem.  Before Brewer signed the bill into law on live television, students gathered at the State Capitol to protest. Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), who also attended, said, "This is the community saying, you know, this is not reflective of Arizona. This bill is not right for our state; it’s not right for our law enforcement, it’s not right for our communities.” 

 
Gregorio Montes de Oca, 22, a political science and Chicano and Chicano studies senior at Arizona State University, is one of those who had protested the bill. On Tuesday he and eight other students went as far as to chain themselves to the doors of the capitol building, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the building. Montes de Oca was one of several ASU students participating, and all were arrested for disorderly conduct.
 

“If other states pick up on what we're doing, then we'll make up for the lack of action by the federal government,” state house representative John Kavanagh (R) told ABCNews.com.
 
And while some share this viewpoint, students spent much of this week fighting back in numbers, trying to prevent this piece of legislation from becoming state law. Montes de Oca believes that the bill will divide Arizona’s communities and create apartheid within the state.
 
“We were pushed to a point of nonviolent civil disobedience because marching, protesting, writing to the governor — everything within the law had been done already,” he said.
 
He said the idea to chain themselves to the capitol doors came from a group of concerned students.
 
“Historically speaking, students have had a major integral part of social movements,” he said. “It’s a sad thing to see such hateful legislation but as a youth we feel responsible for continuing to take action and defend our communities.”
 
Montes de Oca , as advised by his attorney, cannot go into too much detail about the incident — but he did say that he does not regret what happened.
 
“We all went in understanding what we were getting into and were willing to deal with the consequences,” he said. “We wanted to push the envelope and continue to empower people around the nation.”
 
Alicia Contreras, 26, a social work and sociology senior at ASU, shares that goal. She had slept outside the capitol for days in peaceful vigil and prayer.
 
“This is our time, this is our generation,” she said. “We are going to be the ones having to deal with the outcomes of this law."
 
Contreras said that oftentimes young people don’t realize the influence they have, and should think about ways to spread their messages — ways that activists didn’t have years ago.
 
“Utilizing our social networks, Facebook, text messaging, and e-mails are ways to have circles of influence,” she said.
 
Bridgette Gomez, 24, an ASU alumnus who graduated in 2008 and is now a math tutor, had also protested the bill.  She said not only does she not want to have to worry about being stopped based on the color of her skin, she worries it will impact generations to come.
 
"When I was a teacher my best students were undocumented, who could be the next doctors and really contribute to our society,” she said.
 
Montes de Oca said that the fight does not end even though Brewer signed the immigration enforcement bill.
 
“It’s not just a day; we are going to continue dedicating our energies to this cause,” he said. “We are just concerned students, members of our community, and humans that want to take a stand.”
 

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