Elias Bermudez never intended to stay in the United States when he first illegally crossed the border with Mexico more than 35 years ago.
Bermudez, 17 years old at the time, wanted to make some good money and then return home. But when his own children were born as American citizens, Bermudez realized he couldn’t take them away or leave them behind.
Eventually, Bermudez became a citizen as well and even served as mayor of San Luis. But he still thinks more like the thousands of Mexicans and other migrants who risk death in the desert or abuse at the hands of human smugglers every year.
So Bermudez joined in a 25-mile march Tuesday from Mesa to the state Capitol in Phoenix to protest a series of proposed bills that target day laborers and illegal immigrants.
"The people who want to oppose those who come here without documents, I am saying place your energy with the government of this country to create a legal mechanism so they can come here," said Bermudez, who lives in Phoenix. "People don’t come here without documents to defy our laws. People come here undocumented because there is not a place to go to get a visa to work in the U.S. There is only the invitation of the employer."
Pro-immigrant demonstrations at the Capitol have become annual events, as Republican lawmakers have clashed with immigrant advocates over the proper role of state government in a complicated international issue. But voter passage of Proposition 200 in November spurred higher turnout this year as day laborers and sympathetic residents say such measures ignore economic reality and promote racism.
"Everybody knows, the Spanish community supports the city of Mesa," said Magdalena Schwartz, codirector of Latino Community Services in Mesa. "They have to open their eyes and see how many businesses we have. We need their respect."
More than 250 people — including day laborers, Democratic state lawmakers and union leaders — started Tuesday’s march in Mesa’s Pioneer Park. Many carried signs in English and Spanish criticizing bills that would deny a wide array of government services to illegal immigrants and forbid public funds for day labor centers.
March organizers said they picked Pioneer Park as their starting point as a challenge to conservative East Valley lawmakers who have sponsored most of the bills targeting illegal immigrants. Several demonstrators identified Rep. Russell Pearce, RMesa, one of the best-known proponents of Proposition 200.