Sunday, December 09, 2007

Immigration debate swirls around furniture store

Protesters amassed Saturday across the street from a Phoenix furniture store for the seventh straight week in response to managers’ efforts to keep day laborers off their property.

M.D. Pruitt’s Home Furnishings at Thomas Road and 35th Street hired off-duty Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies to patrol the property, and that’s when the protests started. Immigration activists viewed the store’s decision as racist against Hispanics and a violation of people’s rights to assemble on public sidewalks.

Each week, the number of protesters has grown, reaching more than 100 Saturday.

And each week, the number of counter-protestors has also grown. More than 70 gathered Saturday across the street from the protesters, shouting support for Pruitt’s decision and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.

It was clear the clash had more to do with immigration policy and Arpaio than with Pruitt’s furniture store.

Protesters focused on preservation of civil rights and proper use of tax dollars.

“I think it’s a shame that they’re using tax dollars on this instead of fighting crime,” said Rosie Smith, 41, of Phoenix.

Irene Chavez, 64, of Fountain Hills, equated the sheriff’s crackdown on undocumented workers to the targeting of Jews in Nazi Germany.

“I’m not going to wear a number,” Chavez said. “I’m not going to wear a star.”

She said putting a fence along the border dehumanizes Mexican-Americans because it cuts them off from their heritage.

Across 35th Street, counter-protesters waved American flags and sang “God Bless America.”
They said they were supportive of Arpaio and supportive of the law. But they also support immigration, as long as it’s legal.

“My forefathers were immigrants,” said Chuck Desario, 62, of Mesa. “But we have one set of laws to abide by in this country. You can’t pick and choose which laws to abide by.”

More than a dozen Phoenix police officers stood on 35th Street as crowd control between the two groups. About 20 sheriff’s deputies were in the area as well — four on off-duty patrol for Pruitt’s, and 16 from the department’s human smuggling unit.

Those deputies pulled over anyone violating any law. Deputies said 11 people stopped for traffic violations were taken into custody on suspicion of being in the country illegally.

Arpaio said that brings the arrest count in that area to 55 since the protests began. Arpaio said Saturday he thought it was “not the American way” to demonstrate in support of an illegal activity and to “destroy” business for a company during the holiday season.


PROTESTERS SPEAK OUT

More than 100 protesters lined the block of Thomas Road east of 35th Street shaking tin cans, holding signs and chanting. Signs carried a variety of messages, including: “Mayor Gordon: Don’t align yourself with Arpaio,” “Jesus was an immigrant: are you gonna ask him for a visa?” and “Do you want your children to grow up around all this hate?” Here is a sampling of what they said:

Irene Chavez, 64, of Fountain Hills

“Pruitt’s is not allowing people to walk the sidewalks to look for work -- that’s not a crime. (Sheriff Joe Arpaio) is wasting his time on people who can’t defend themselves, who don’t speak English and don’t know their rights.”

Chavez said she’s a Hispanic American, and the sheriff’s crackdown is affecting everyone who is Hispanic, regardless of whether they’re in the country legally. She noted that being undocumented is a civil offense, not a felony.

“Why isn’t Arpaio out stopping criminals?” Chavez asked. “The one thing I find really fascinating is the word ‘illegal’,” Chavez said. She said Adolf Hitler called the Jews “inferior” enough times that he convinced people that Jews truly were inferior. She’s afraid the same will happen to Hispanics in Arizona with the use of the word “illegal.”

Alex Gonzales, 23, of Phoenix

“Look at this,” she said, motioning across the street at the counter-protesters. “It’s kind of ludicrous. If they’re gonna fight, I’m gonna fight, too –- I’m not scared. Little do they know I have all the rights to hold that flag, too.”

Monica Sandschafer, 33, of Phoenix

“Immigrants bring prosperity to lots of small towns and communities around the country.”

Rosie Smith, 41, of Phoenix

“I’m a U.S. citizen. I think it’s a shame that they (law enforcement) are using tax dollars on this instead of fighting crime,” Smith said. “I myself have been a victim of verbal abuse.” Smith said people had threatened to report her to immigration officials and had accused her of being on welfare just because of her skin color. “This issue is just going to divide the city – divide it between white and brown. One day we’re going to wake up and realize this is getting too serious.”

Daniel Ortega, 56, of Phoenix

Ortega served as the legal and security point-person for the protesters. He said Sheriff Joe Arpaio came out on the illegal immigration issue as a ploy to promote himself.

“It’s important that those of us that believe in civil rights and human rights come out and call this for what it really is.” He added: “The police need to dedicate our resources to fighting crime.”

COUNTER-PROTESTERS SPEAK OUT

More than 70 counter-protesters splayed down Thomas Road west of 35th Street singing “God Bless America” and “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Them Goodbye” and waving American flags. Signs read: “Fire Grant Woods,” “No more sanctuary city,” “A nation at war closes its borders,” “Got border security?” and “Support job makers, not law breakers.” A man with a megaphone cried out to passing traffic, “Honk if you’re an American!” Here is a sampling of what they said:

Gordon Stoa, 77, of Phoenix

“I’ve lived here for 11 years – we didn’t understand the illegal immigration issue until we got here. We saw the illegal immigration issue develop. We are not against immigration – we are against illegal immigrants. If they can’t follow the rule of law, they shouldn’t be in the United States. We are not racists. You can’t blame someone for wanting to come here for a better life. But they have to come the right way.”

Stoa said a three-pronged immigration policy would stem the tide of illegal immigration: “Seal the borders, stop the anchor babies and punish the employers,” Stoa said.

Lynn Stevens, 64, of Phoenix

Stevens videotaped the protest for Riders U.S.A., a motorcycle group. She planned to post the video on YouTube.com.

“We’re doing things to attract people’s attention to the fact that they’re being attacked by illegal alien invaders,” Stevens said.

Beth Henderson, 48, of Phoenix

“I came out to support America and to support Sheriff Joe. Illegals are coming – buying social security cards and driver’s licenses and taking American jobs.”

A.J. Kramer, 40, of Phoenix

“We came out to support our freedom. We’re here to support the laws. We’re here to support law enforcement who are trying to do their jobs, but their hands are tied by (a law) that won’t allow them to arrest illegals. We are not against immigration – we are against illegal immigrants. Everyone has the right to come here if they go through the proper channels.”

Anna Gaines of Phoenix

Gaines said she has lived in Phoenix since 1960.

“It’s not about racism -– it’s about the law," she said. "Look at me, I’m brown. Dual citizenship is not right. You’re either here or there.”

She held a sign that read, “Patriotism is not racism.” Gaines said she saw the illegal immigration issue develop in Phoenix in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She said all of her family lives in Mexico and often sends her letters to report about local criminals who have escaped to the United States.

“We are now being viewed with a bit of suspicion,” she said of Mexican Americans.

Source: EastValleyTribune

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