Reporting from Phoenix — Several hundred demonstrators opposed to Arizona's hard-line stance on illegal immigration marched Thursday to the federal courthouse here, where a judge the previous day had issued a last-minute injunction against most of the state's controversial immigration law.
Three people were arrested in a carefully choreographed act of civil disobedience, when they stepped onto the cordoned-off steps to the building's plaza. Demonstrations are expected to escalate Thursday.
"We live here in a climate of fear," said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator who joined about 100 people on the two-mile march from the state Capitol at 4:30 a.m and was one of those arrested. "The context of Arizona is foreign to this country. This is basically a nation that's become hostile to its own people."
A federal judge Wednesday halted implementation of much of the immigration law, known as SB 1070, ruling it unconstitutional. But activists said they had to keep up the pressure on a state that has come to define the national debate over illegal immigration.
SB 1070, which would have taken effect Thursday, declared the state's policy is "attrition through enforcement" -- an attempt to drive out illegal immigrants, who make up about 7% of the population here, through a series of criminal penalties. Even without the law, though, the state has used many tools against illegal immigrants.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was expected to demonstrate one of them later Thursday by launching one of his controversial "sweeps," in which his deputies fan out through immigrant neighborhoods, stopping people for sometimes minor infractions and checking their immigration status.
In an unusual light drizzle Thursday, the marchers left the Capitol bearing images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, en route to a church service. Channtal Polanco, 19, was one of several people who have staged a 24-hour vigil at the Capitol during the 103 days since the Legislature passed SB1070 in April.
Polanco, a U.S. citizen, took the extraordinary step after a cousin and his wife, both of whom are in the country illegally, asked her to be designated the guardian of their 10-year-old, U.S. -born daughter should they be deported.
"That broke my heart," said Polanco, a community college student.
She noted the several steps Arizona has taken against illegal immigrants and said that "at some point, this has to end. You have to reach the bottom to get to the top. I have to believe this is the bottom."