LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Angered by Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, Hispanic protesters took to the streets yesterday to de-nounce the new law and call on President Barack Obama to act urgently on immigration reform at May Day rallies across the United States.
In a sea of American flags and banners painted with “We Are All Arizona” and “Over-turn Arizona Apartheid,” tens of thousands of marchers, dressed in white, swarmed downtown Los Angeles.
In Washington, a US congressman was among 34 people arrested in a protest outside the White House.
Dozens of protests were planned by immigration rights activists in US cities, including in the Arizona capital, Phoenix, where the governor signed the toughest immigration law in the nation eight days ago.
Activists want a repeal of the law that seeks to drive illegal immigrants out of the US-Mexico border state and they want Obama to fulfill his election promise to overhaul immigration laws. An estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants live in the United States.
“What is happening in Arizona is making the community come out to the street,” said activist Omar Gomez in Los Angeles.
The Arizona law requires state and local police to determine people’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” they are in the United States illegally.
Supporters say it is needed to curb crime in the desert state, which is home to some 460,000 illegal immigrants and is a major corridor for drug and migrant smugglers from Mexico.
Critics say the law is unconstitutional and opens the door to racial profiling.
Polls show it has the backing of almost two-thirds of Arizona voters and majority support nationwide. The law has prompted legal challenges and hurled immigration back on the front burner of US politics in this volatile election year. “Laws that make suspects out of people for no other reason than the colour of their skin have no place in our country,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Mexican-American, told marchers packing into the city centre.
“We must show that bigotry has no place in the United States of America,” added Villaraigosa, a Democrat who is one of the most powerful Hispanics in US politics.