Crossing over

Arizona law changing the political dynamics on immigration, in SF and across the country

Thousands poured into the streets on May 1 to march for federal immigration reform

Tensions over the issue of how cities and states should treat undocumented immigrants have been simmering in San Francisco since the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom began clashing over the issue almost two years ago. But they have recently boiled over in response to a draconian new law in Arizona, quickly altering the political dynamics of the issue, here and across the country.

Thousands flooded into the streets of San Francisco's Mission District on May 1 to march for immigrant rights, part of a May Day celebration that seemed infused with collective outrage at Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, an anti-immigration measure signed into law April 23 that has touched off a firestorm of protests nationwide.

The predominantly Latino crowd waved American flags and flew banners denouncing the law, which makes it a state-level crime to be in the country illegally and criminalizes the failure to carry immigration documents at all times. The march occasionally erupted into chants of "Si Se Puede!" (Yes we can), and "Obama, escucha: estamos en la lucha," (Obama, listen: We're in the struggle).

While immigrant rights marches are held every year on May 1, the 2010 rallies had a tremendous turnout. San Francisco's immigrant rights movement seemed galvanized by the new legislation, which is widely perceived as racist and ill-advised. Yet it has also been seen by advocacy groups as an opportunity for federal immigration reform.

Despite the cultural and geographic chasms separating San Francisco and Phoenix, SB 1070 also has emerged as a pivotal issue in a big election year as Latino and progressive communities gauge politicians' reactions to a bill that has made national headlines.

San Francisco was the first city in the country to call for a boycott of Arizona. But Newsom proved out of step with City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Sup. David Campos, who first independently called for the boycott. While Campos and Herrera sent a clear message urging city departments to boycott Arizona-based companies, Newsom warned of the "complicated" aspects surrounding this idea then put forth a proposal to form a working group to analyze the idea.

"What we need is action, swift action," Campos told the Guardian when we asked what he thought of Newsom's plan. "We did not need a working group deciding whether or not to do same-sex marriage. We don't need a working group to tell us what we should do here."



Campos delivered a rousing speech, in Spanish, at the May 1 rally at Civic Center Plaza, saying San Francisco had to send a clear message to Congress and emphasizing his support for a boycott. As he spoke, the high-energy, tightly packed crowd waved flags, banged on pots and pans, cheered and applauded.

Ramon Cardona, a Salvadoran who directs a San Pablo immigrant outreach organization called Centro Latino Cuzcatlan and helped organize the event, said the underlying message was to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. "Deportations are creating so much suffering and pain," he said. "The captures and deportations are dividing up families, and leaving children as orphans."

Cardona noted that the number of people getting deported has increased — in 2006, more than 180,000 deportations were carried out; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has declared a target of 400,000 for this year. But Cardona said he doubts if crackdowns or intensified border militarization would deter those with an eye toward illegally crossing the U.S. border because the economic conditions in Central America have decimated most alternative means of earning a living.

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