Thousands of demonstrators waving U.S. flags marched through the streets of Phoenix Tuesday demanding immigration reform. The march re-electrified debate about President Bush’s proposal to grant legal status and eventual citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States.
The May Day march coincided with similar immigration-reform marches across the country.
Phoenix Police Detective Stacie Derge estimated the size of the crowd at 15,000 to 20,000, which seemed conservative for a group of people that stretched for more than a mile along Grand and Washington avenues.
By any estimate, the turn-out was significantly less than a similar march a year ago, when more than 100,000 demonstrators marched in Phoenix for immigration reform.
Organizers said division among immigration groups during the past year led to the lower turnout. Some groups were afraid that another high-profile march would lead to a public backlash.
Tuesday’s march was loud and festive.
Most demonstrators wore white in a show of peace. Many donned stars-and-stripes inspired hats, shirts and bandanas to show their support of the United States.
Only a handful of demonstrators carried Mexican flags.
“We are America! I love America!” backhoe operator Silvo Rosalez shouted as the march started.
Phoenix high school student Sandy Rabadan said an overall reform of immigration policies would provide justice for illegal immigrants who have contributed to the U.S. for years.
Phoenix resident Jose Alfrado Hernandez, an illegal immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for eight years, said he supports immigration reform so that foreign nationals seeking work would be allowed to enter the country legally without risking death crossing through the desert.
Hernandez, a cabinet installer, said the citizenship requirements associated with most proposed immigration measures are reasonable. Those requirements generally include paying a fine, paying back taxes, learning English, taking classes in U.S. civics, and waiting for more than a decade for citizenship.
Roughly 200 counter-protesters, many of whom also carried U.S. flags, confronted the marchers at the state Capitol, which led to sporadic shouting matches.
The marchers’ security personnel generally kept the sides apart and kept the marchers walking. As many as 250 law enforcement officers from five agencies also monitored the march. No arrests were made, Derge said.
In a somewhat ironic scene, the marchers’ security personnel at times escorted and protected the counter-protesters as they wove in and out of the marchers in an obvious attempt to disrupt their progress.
One of the counter-protesters, Litchfield Park resident Dave Weber, said the march did little to advance the cause of immigration reform.
“They don’t want honest debate, because when honest debate happens, they lose. It’s that simple,” he said.
The U.S. first needs to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, then limit illegal immigrants’ access to welfare and other government services, he said.
Demonstrators carried homemade signs with messages such as “Stop Deportation,” “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote” and “Yes To Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
They marched for a variety of reasons.
Yuri Andrade of Phoenix said she participated in tribute to her sister-in-law, Columban Rios, who’s serving a 75-day prison sentence in the Florence Correctional Center for entering the country illegally.
Andrade said she now cares for her own three children, as well as Rios’ kids — Jesus Vargas, 17, and Carmen, 11, Gabino, 7, and Miguel, 3. Andrade said the kids have only seen their mother once since she was arrested two weeks ago, and that they’ll continue to be separated because Rios is being deported.
“We think that people who’ve been here a long time should be citizens. They don’t deserve to have their family separated,” she said.
Jose Ruiz, a Phoenix construction worker, said he hopes for “just” immigration reform that would offer citizenship to those who deserve it.
“It’s not for people who destroy the country,” he said. “The most important change needed is to make it possible for people to not have to hide any longer.”
Yadira Alvarez, 17, helped hold a banner painted with the beginning stanza of the Declaration of Independence during the march.
“Everyone’s entitled to liberty. Everyone’s entitled to justice,” said the Phoenix Metro Tech High School student.
Alvarez said she’s a legal resident, but many of her friends aren’t.
Volunteer Victoria Lopez and her seven family members donned yellow shirts and helped with march security. Lopez said she was marching “for the children.”
“Mine are citizens,” Lopez said, “but I’m here for all the kids who don’t have papers. So that they’ll have opportunities, too.”
The Associated Press reported that about 25,000 people attended a similar rally in Los Angeles and 150,000 marched in Chicago on Tuesday. Thousands rallied in other cities, including New York and Detroit.