A May Day to Remember

Tens of thousands rally against AZ immigration bill: "It takes away the pride in people"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Thousands gathered in Manhattan to protest Arizona's new immigration law and fight for equal rights in this country. (Published Monday, May 3, 2010)

    A virtual maypole was erected from Texas to Los Angeles to Chicago to New York as more than a million people across the country banded together to send a powerful message of outrage and solidarity over Arizona's new immigration law.

    Thousands of people in New York used this May Day to push for an immigration reform bill and oppose Arizona's new law, which is already being changed amid growing controversy.

    Iztel Delgado, who boarded a bus in Union Square Saturday morning with others to take part in a rally, believes the new law detracts from the sanctity of an individual's heritage and unfairly singles people out for investigation because of their race.

    “It takes away the pride in people," Delgado said. "Is it bad to look Mexican? Nobody should be stopped because they look a certain way."

    Scores of demonstrators like Delgado rallied in the city to protest Arizona's stringent law and join in the sixth annual "May Day March" at Union Square, 14th St. and Broadway.

    The May Day demonstration filled Manhattan's Foley Square with what one organized described as more than 5,000 laborers and activists from New York's immigrant-rich work force who are upset about the law. The original version of the legislation required authorities to ask about immigration status if they believed the person may be in the U.S. illegally.

    "That's the fuel that motivated them to come here, because of the sadness of the Arizona law,'' said labor organizer John Delgado, who is business manager for Local 79 of the Construction and General Building Laborers Union.

    One construction worker from Ecuador said he believed that it would lead to crackdowns on good people, singled out only because of the color of their skin.

    Another laborer who came from Honduras 20 years ago said it would make life harder for all immigrants, even those here legally.

    To calm fears and rampant accusations of racial profiling, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed some amendments to the law.

    The major change has to do with how someone is approached. Now authorities would only be able to ask about immigration status if they were doing it in the process of enforcing some other law.

    Think about how cops enforce the seat-belt law. They can't pull you over for not wearing your seat belt, but they can certainly give you a ticket if they pull you over under the auspices of some other violation and find you're not buckled in.

    But does the amendment to the immigration law make it any easier for opponents to swallow?

    Hector Figueroa, the Secretary-Treasurer Local 32 BJ of the Service Employees International Union, says no.

    "It may appear so on paper but in practice, the law enforcement agent is going to be compelled to try to enforce the law and that is going to put many of the people in our communities at risk," Figueroa said.

    Supporters of the law say something needs to be done about violence related to illicit border crossings and drug smuggling. But critics say stopping anyone who "looks illegal" isn't the way to do it.

    Opponents have called for the boycott of Arizona. Immigration activists gathered in Union Square to decry the law, urging New Yorkers to boycott the state of Arizona and any businesses that are based there.

    “We’re saying no to the Arizona law,” said Gonzalo Venegas. “We want comprehensive legalization for all immigrants here in the United States.”

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that the law would be the equivalent of "committing national suicide," that individuals' fear of exposure would hamper tourism and economic growth.

    It could also be problematic in police investigations. Who, for example, will step forward as a witness to a crime when they fear they could be targeted because of their identity?

    Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, says he plans to introduce a bill in New York State to formalize a boycott against Arizona.

    “We need to take action until they remove this unconscionable law from the books,” said Powell.

    He and members of New York State’s Latino Assembly, headed by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, will travel to Arizona to rally against the law. “All Americans need to stand up against this law,” said Powell. “And stop this from happening in other states.”

    The threat of a boycott also threatens Arizona’s economy. Tourists spend $18.5 billion dollars in the state annually and businesses like hotels would suffer greatly.

    “I really feel,” said Ben Bethel, owner of a Clarendon Hotel, "this is one of the biggest anti-business things the state could have done in a very long time.”

    The ire over Arizona’s immigration law has even sparked a call to boycott AriZona Iced Tea beverages.

    But the company is actually based in New York, started in 1992 by two men in Brooklyn.

    “For the last 16 years our headquarters have remained on Long Island,” said Don Vultaggio, the founder and chairman of AriZona Iced Tea. “Where we continue to sell and distribute the beverages."