As thousands of Latinos marched through the streets of Phoenix on Tuesday demanding immigration reform, nearly 200 demonstrators rallied at the state capitol to call for a crackdown on illegal immigrants and tighter border security.
United for a Sovereign America (USA) set up tents and collected signatures for two immigration-related measures being proposed for the 2008 ballot. Likewise, state lawmakers supporting the group’s efforts delivered speeches calling for the federal government to seal off the nation’s porous border with Mexico.
“The federal government seems to be going backward in immigration reform, especially when it comes to closing the border,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He also urged the red-white-and-blue-clad crowd to sign the petitions and make sure their friends and family did so as well.
One of the ballot proposals would impose tough legal and financial penalties against employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The other would require local police agencies to enforce federal immigration law.
After signing the petitions, those attending were treated to apple pie and ice cream. Organizers said they were not “counter-protesters” and described their effort as non-confrontational.
“We don’t have an immigration problem, we have an illegal immigration problem,” said “Buffalo” Rick Galeener, 56, who helped put the event together.
He was wearing a shirt with a slogan that would offend some Latinos and their supporters. It read, “Illegal Aliens Undocumented Unlawful Unsanitary Unwanted.”
Also attending the event were former Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Gary Tupper and Don Goldwater. Both had made securing the border a centerpiece of their failed 2006 runs for their party’s nomination for governor. Goldwater addressed the audience and called for the Arizona Legislature to pass an employer sanctions bill.
Phoenix police said there were no arrests as a result of the rallies.
There were some tense moments between the two sides, however, as the thousands of marchers approached the capitol. At one point, state and local police were called to break up a shouting match near the corner of 17th Avenue and Adams Street.
The heavy police presence didn’t stop people from yelling at each other.
“This is a country of laws and you’re here illegally. You’re a lawbreaker and that’s why we don’t want you here,” said Gary Stout, a member of the Minute Man Civil Defense Corps, who was shouting at a man at the rally.
Later, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the march was “offensive to Americans.”
“They’re here illegally and they have no business marching through our streets,” he said.