July 28, 2012
A group of undocumented immigrants angry over deportations and racial profiling will embark on a multistate bus tour Monday that will culminate Sept. 1, just before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
Organizers of the tour have plotted out a path starting in Phoenix that takes them through states and cities they say have enacted some of the harshest laws against undocumented immigrants, such as Arizona's SB 1070. They plan a series of acts of "civil disobedience" along the way that they hope will shine a light on laws they say unfairly target them. They're doing it fully aware that they could end up in jail, or possibly in deportation proceedings.
"My mother is nervous," said Gerardo Torres, 41, a carpenter from Phoenix whose entire family lives in Mexico, "but she was a little bit happy that she might see me back in Mexico if I get deported."
Natally Cruz, 24, was brought to the country without documents by her family when she was 7. All her life, she tried to live under the radar, trying to avoid contact with police or immigration officials. When Arizona passed SB 1070, a law designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants in 2010, she started protesting more openly.
She has joined a growing number of undocumented immigrants who have "come out" in recent years, declaring their status in hopes of drawing more attention to their situation. She said that strategy is meant to counter people such as Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made targeting undocumented immigrants a focal point of his term in office.
"If he sees our community scared, he has the motivation to keep doing what he's doing, to keep us in the shadows," Cruz said. "If we show him we're not scared, he kind of loses his power."
Sheriff Arpaio is defending himself against a class-action civil rights lawsuit against his department. The sheriff's office is accused of making discriminatory arrests based on skin color and heritage. That case is in trial.
The sheriff said a bus tour will not affect the way he does his job. "You think these demonstrators talking about me are going to stop this from happening?" he said in a phone interview. "They're wasting their time talking about me, because I'm still going to enforce the laws. … They won't get me to surrender by taking a bus."
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who has long argued for strict enforcement of undocumented immigration, isn't swayed by the bus tour argument either.
"With 23 million Americans unemployed or underemployed and 7 million undcoumented immigrants working in the U.S., we need to enforce our immigration laws to open up jobs for legal workers," Smith said.
B. Loewe, a spokesman for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which is coordinating the trip, said the bus will travel to Colorado, down through New Orleans, Atlanta and several other cities on the way to Charlotte.
Loewe said the group will end the trip just before the convention, where President Obama will formally receive his party's nomination for president, to try to force members of the party to stop the record number of deportations and reduce the strength of anti-immigrant laws.
Obama's administration has taken some big strides to accommodate the Hispanic electorate, including a program announced in June that will allow up to 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the USA as children to stay. But he has upset many in the community, partly because his administration has set a record each year with the number of people it deports.
That is the kind of policy the undcoumented immigrants hope to change through the tour.
"I am nervous, but for me, the status quo is not an option anymore. I have to fight for my rights. I have to fight for those who are more afraid than me," Torres said. "I want to do it for them."