As a judge weighs whether to halt Arizona's controversial immigration law, hundreds of Los Angeles union members and activists are planning a bus caravan to Phoenix on Thursday — the day the law is set to take effect.
More than 550 people plan to ride on 11 buses to Arizona to stage a protest and launch a partnership with Arizona groups to boost voter registration. During the one-day trip, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, participants will meet with Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, march to the state Capitol and hold a vigil. The participants represent 32 unions.
SB 1070, signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in April and supported by a majority of Arizona residents, makes it a state crime to lack immigration documents and requires police to determine the immigration status of people they lawfully stop and subsequently suspect are in the country illegally.
"As Californians and Angelenos, we want to see how we can help not only defeat this specific law but also to help the Latino community be more active in the political process," said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the labor federation. "Hopefully it will motivate some to go out and register to vote."
That is what happened in 1994 after California voters passed Proposition 187, which sought to restrict services from illegal immigrants before being struck down by the courts. More than one million California Latinos became citizens and voter registration spiked. Already, several groups in Arizona are registering voters and trying to increase Latino voter participation in an effort to shift the political landscape and stop any more anti-illegal immigrant laws from passing.
The caravan is just one of many activities planned Thursday. Immigration activists have declared it a "national day of action," with events planned in several cities to protest implementation of the Arizona law. They include a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, a vigil outside a detention center in Georgia and a unity event in Chicago featuring faith, community and political leaders, along with 200 children. Chicago leaders also plan to deliver 2,000 letters to Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts asking him to move the baseball team's spring training from Arizona to Florida.
The Obama administration filed a challenge to the law and argued in court last week that the federal government has the ultimate authority to implement immigration law and policy. The same day, immigrant rights groups argued that the law would lead to racial profiling and harassment of Latinos. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton did not say whether she would stop the law or when she would issue a ruling.
Meanwhile, Arizona is gearing up for Thursday, with officers receiving training and Phoenix officials planning for demonstrations. There also will be protests throughout California, including in Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Redlands.
Some who signed up for Thursday's bus caravan said they felt compelled to go to Arizona to show their opposition to the law and their support for immigrants.
"I look at things in a historical context," said Carlos Leon, 47, a detention officer with the Los Angeles County Probation Department who decided that he needed to speak up for the oppressed.
Leon said he believes the law is unjust and will result in people being questioned about their status based on their looks.
Even though his family has been in the United States for generations, Leon said he is still subjected to stereotypes. If the law goes into effect, he said he believes it will lead to more stereotyping and more fear among Latinos.
Rob Robbins, 71, a home care worker in Long Beach, said he grew up black in segregated Alabama in the 1940s and '50s and sees parallels between the racism of that time and now.
"Anytime I see signs of that coming alive in our country, it rises my indignation," he said. "SB 1070 basically says you are guilty because of how you look. That, to me, is not American."
Robbins said having so many illegal immigrants in the United States is a problem, but Arizona's law isn't the solution.
"We have borders in this country for a purpose," he said. "That is where the problem is, and that is where the problem should be dealt with."
Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.