New America Media
By Valeria FernÃ¡ndez
PHOENIX â€“ More than 2,000 people marched Wednesday from the Arizona State Capitol to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Phoenix, calling for fair immigration reform that would extend protections for immigrants not only to live freely in the United States but also to the workplace.
â€œPeople are beat up at home and they are beat up at work here. They get threatened by the cops at home and they get threatened by their bosses at work,â€ said Brendan Walsh, executive director of the organization Central Arizona for a Sustainable Economy.
Arizona has been ground zero for one of the most divisive immigration debates in the country with the passage of SB 1070 in 2010, a law that requires police officers to ask for documentation when they suspect a person is in the country illegally.
The state also has an employer sanctions law that has resulted in the arrest of workers in sweeps and the mandatory use of a federal database known as E-Verify.
The number of protesters did not compare to the massive marches in 2006 that drew crowds of more than 100,000 here to protest the punitive immigration reform bill introduced in the House by Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner.
But activists working together with 22 organizations in the Arizona Immigration Reform Coalition underscored the significance of this yearâ€™s march for workersâ€™ and immigrant rights that converged in a global boycott against the Hyatt.
Members of the Unite Here hotel workers union denounced working conditions and alleged discriminatory practices in the wages of the hotelâ€™s Latino workers; Hyatt denied the allegations in a statement.
â€œFor several years, Hyatt has been trying to increase wages and benefits for our associates who are represented by Unite Here in certain cities. Instead, Unite Here leadership has focused on a campaign to pressure Hyatt into forcing associates at Hyatt Regency Phoenix and other Hyatt properties to join the union whether they want to or not,â€ they wrote in a statement.
Margarita HernÃ¡ndez, a 60-year-old U.S citizen who joined the march Wednesday, said sheÂ has worked at the Hyatt for 12 years. She claims she recently started getting complaints about her lack of proficiency in English, which she said made her feel discriminated against.
â€œImmigration reform should be to rescue the economy of this country, but also to respect human rights and equality,â€ HernÃ¡ndez said.
With immigration reform reigniting in Congress and a Senate bill that would create a long pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, Walsh and other advocates believe immigrant workers would be able to exert their rights without fear of facing deportation or getting fired.
â€œWeâ€™re here for the workers and to let it be known that we canâ€™t sustain the economy we have without the labor of immigrants,â€ said Petra FalcÃ³n, director of Promesa Arizona, an organization involved in voter registration and mobilization.
Several groups present at the event reiterated the message to put an end to all deportations as Congress discusses immigration reform.
Community activists also helped people register to vote at the event and members of a campaign to recall Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio collected signatures from opponents of his tactics of immigration enforcement that have resulted in claims of racial profiling.
Tonatierra, a group lead by human rights activist Salvador Reza, is planning another march for May 5 to protest Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Among those present will be Father Alejandro Solalinde, a human rights advocate who works in migrant shelters in Mexico and has denounced both U.S. and Mexican border policies.