Unions join religious leaders in Arizona law protests

PHOENIX (PAI)–Unionists joined religious leaders on July 29 in mass protests against Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law — even though a federal judge in Phoenix halted enforcement of parts of the legislation the day before.

In a telephone press conference from Phoenix, hosted by labor-backed Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), the religious leaders quickly cited five unions — the Steelworkers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite Here, the Service Employees and the Auto Workers — whom they said would participate in the protests in up to 15 cities.  More unions were expected to join, the religious leaders added.

Besides Phoenix, protests occurred in Chicago, Oakland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Francisco, New York City, Houston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C., Toledo, Ohio, Memphis, Tenn., and Albany, N.Y., IWJ said.

The protests had two points: One was to campaign against Arizona’s law, SB 1070, which is aimed at anyone who “looks different,” notably Hispanics.  The other is to push for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers now in the U.S.

“If we allow undocumented workers to remain so, not only can they be exploited, but all workers are in danger,” said Kim Bobo, director of Chicago-based IWJ, a national network of 27 centers that help and defend exploited workers.

The immediate target of the religious-led protests was SB 1070, which mandated that state and local law enforcement officials could stop anyone who looks suspicious and immediately demand to see their papers proving their right to reside in the U.S.  If the person stopped lacks papers, they can be arrested, detained and deported.

Bobo and her colleagues bluntly said the law would cause “racial profiling,” aimed at Hispanics.  Other religious leaders on the call included Presbyterian and Unitarian ministers and an Islamic imam from Los Angeles.

On July 28, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix, responding to an Obama administration lawsuit, temporarily halted enforcement of several sections of the law — including requiring people to carry papers and letting police stop anyone on looks.

But that still left other sections of the law alive, such as a ban on stopping to pick up day laborers, said Rev. Trina Zelle, head of IWJ’s Arizona affiliate. She added that though enforcement wasn’t supposed to begin until July 29, it started as soon as the law passed in April.  And vicious employers stripped workers of wages — by only partially paying them — and overtime, Zelle added, by threatening workers with the law.

Photo: Labor unions, religious groups and other allies join mass protests across the country against Arizona’s draconian immigration law. Jobs with Justice supporters held this protest in Louisville, Ky.,  (Ed Reinke/AP)



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.