Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/124104
Nearly 15,000 people took to the streets of Tucson on Monday, marching to protest what they say are unfair immigration laws.
Entire families, many people pushing strollers and waving pro-immigrant signs and mostly American flags, walked, screaming and chanting in English and Spanish. Many displayed signs that read, "This is what America looks like," "We are workers, not criminals," "We march today, we vote tomorrow," and "We need permanent residency."
Many placards protested federal legislation that would make felons of the estimated 12 million in the country illegally.
The march began at 10 a.m. on the South Side and moved north to Armory Park, where marchers were met by up to 2,000 more protesters at a rally.
Tucsonans joined hundreds of thousands of others who took part in demonstrations from coast to coast in what was dubbed a national day of action.
The event was mostly peaceful, but Tucson police arrested several people in a scuffle as the protest ended.
The tension began to grow after a few members of a group called the Border Guardians torched a Mexican flag as part of a counterprotest.
Peacekeepers trained by march organizers tried to prevent a confrontation by standing arm-in-arm with their backs to the group in an effort to keep them apart from the marchers.
The situation erupted when Tucson police arrested a 15-year-old girl who they say threw a bottle of water at the one of the people burning a Mexican flag. Then they arrested Marisol Luna, 16, who they say doused one of the flag-burners and a police officer with water.
"Pouring water can be considered assault," said Tucson Police Capt. Brett Klein.
Angry members of the crowd followed police as they escorted Luna out of the park. When officers, now flanked by officers on motorcycles, reached the corner of East McCormick and South Scott streets, members of the crowd attacked officers, including one man who jumped on the back of an officer, Klein said.
One officer sprayed pepper spray in the air to control the situation, Klein said.
At that point, peacekeepers, including Evelyn Álvarez, field organizer for the Pima County Democratic Party, rushed in to try to calm the situation.
"It was pretty tense there, but I have to say that the officers that were around me were very, very professional and helpful," said Álvarez, who had specks of burnt orange on her sleeve as she washed her eyes out from the pepper spray.
Officers cited Luna, Saúl Figueroa, 16, Miguel Contreras, 20, and Roberto Contreras, 55, each with aggravated assault on a peace officer, a felony. They cited a 15-year-old girl with disorderly conduct and Missal Ordomez, 21, with hindering prosecution and interfering with governmental operation.
Tucson police had dedicated 15 officers to redirect traffic along the route and another 15 bike officers to patrol the route, according to Lt. Ramon Batista.
Many Tucsonans skipped work and school to take part in the march, prompting some businesses that employ immigrants to close for the day.
Mexican native Miguel Santos Nuñez, 39, said his boss gave him the day off from his construction job. He lives and works here illegally, he said. His hope is that the marches can in "some way or another pressure legislators" to allow a path to legalization.
The massive march noisily wound its way through city streets, stretching over six blocks at times even as more people joined in along the route.
Volunteers provided crowd control, urging calm as a few protesters met them at the park with signs calling for tougher laws.
The protesters began their march at South 12th Avenue and West Ajo Way and headed north past Pueblo High School, where many students joined. The crowd often spilled onto the sidewalks.
Across from the school, Francisco Durazo closed his restaurant, Tacos Apson, to distribute free water bottles to the marchers. "It's just a way of supporting the cause of immigrants," he said.
Tony Martínez, 19, carried a Mexican flag, despite criticism from some who view it as disrespectful to the United States. But Tucson-born Martínez said he feels the flag is an important symbol of his Mexican roots.
Ramón Caro, 51, walked behind his wife, four children and four grandchildren, chanting in Spanish at the top of his lungs that immigrants are here to stay.
Caro, a handyman, said he worked here illegally for years before receiving legal U.S. status through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
Liz Macías, 29, who missed work at a real estate company, marched with her son Carlos Cuestas, 10, a Davis Bilingual Elementary School student. She wants her son "to understand what his family has gone through to better themselves," she said.
The boy said he felt missing a day of school was worthwhile because "what I learned today is that it's right to fight for your rights — and what you can do about it and how."
Also in the crowd was Matt Hogel, 30, who teaches at the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. The Navy veteran, who described himself as a Republican, said he walked to show his appreciation for immigrants. "Whatever they are getting out of our country, we are getting tenfold from them, and people need to understand that."
Hundreds of students who had walked out of school and rallied at the Federal Building arrived at Armory Park just after 11 a.m., clapping and chanting opposition to a measure approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that many marchers see as repressive.
As more youths swelled the park rally, students screamed into microphones words in support of immigrants, both those here legally and illegally. One after another, exuberant young men and women climbed up on a stage framed in red, white and blue balloons to talk — and shout — about the need to get involved in favor of immigrant rights.
Leilani Clark, 17, said the anti-immigrant climate that permeates the country can negatively impact people of all races.
"This affects me. You know why? Because I'm human," said Clark, who described herself as Native American and African-American.
Other youths talked about how their generation had to be responsible for revolutionary change.
David Bachman-Williams, a government and geometry teacher at Tucson High School, sat with a group of his students in the grass at Armory Park and talked about the day's events. He called the day an invaluable civics lesson.
"I'm teaching government better here than at Tucson High," Bachman-Williams said. "I'm connecting with students so much better here. When I go back tomorrow, they are going to listen more."
Jennifer Allen, director of Border Action Network, said the police-protesters scuffle was unfortunate, but it did not take away from the march.
Alex Rodríguez, a member of the Tucson Unified School District Board, also lamented the confrontation. "It would have been a perfect event had it not been for that. . . . What we need to do is avoid that chasm in the first place by having a civil dialogue on border security and immigration reform."
On StarNet: Video and photos from Monday's protests at azstarnet.com/border
● Reporter Tom Stauffer contributed to this article. Contact reporter Lourdes Medrano at 573-4347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or at email@example.com.