By J.D. Long-Garcia
Catholic News Service

PHOENIX (CNS) – Two May 29 rallies in Arizona, one against the state’s tough new immigration law and one in support of it, drew thousands of participants to Phoenix and Tempe.{{more}}

Opponents marched through the streets of downtown Phoenix to a rally at the state Capitol in an event organizers dubbed “Alto Arizona,” or “Stop Arizona,” hoping the demonstration would encourage the federal government to declare as unconstitutional the bill Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law April 23.

“I came to support our people and to demonstrate against discrimination,” said Rosa Romney, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, and a member of St. Henry Parish in Buckeye. “We need immigration reform now.”

More than 4,500 supporters, some traveling from Texas, Georgia and Washington, turned out for the “Stand With Arizona” event in Tempe organized by the Dallas Tea Party group.

One of them was Connie Sheffield, an Arizona resident and daughter of Italian immigrants. She applauded Brewer for signing the law.

“I think the security of our country is the real issue,” said Sheffield. “We need to close the borders and then really think about returning illegals back to Mexico.”

S.B. 1070, which takes effect at the end of July, has drawn much criticism from immigrant rights advocates, who claim the bill would lead to racial profiling. In response, the Arizona State Legislature drastically limited its scope April 30.

The revised law now states that law enforcement “may not consider race, color or national origin,” striking the key word “solely” that many of the bill’s opponents took issue with.

Despite the amendments, the law still makes being in the United States illegally a crime in Arizona and requires local law enforcement to make a “reasonable attempt” to determine legal status during any lawful “stop, detention or arrest.”

While Phoenix and cities throughout the country have seen dozens of similar demonstrations over the past few years, Congress has not reformed the immigration system. Nonetheless, Romney said, it’s important to march for reform.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes,” she told the Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese. “We will demonstrate until our voices are heard.”

“We aren’t giving up,” said Juana Morales, from Guadalajara, Mexico, and a parishioner at St. John Vianney in Goodyear. “(Undocumented) immigrants should know that we’re not going to abandon them. We’ll fight for them.”

Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, along with the other Catholic bishops of Arizona, made several joint statements opposing S.B. 1070 through the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s three dioceses. The first such statement came out in February.

More recently, the bishops called on Brewer to veto the measure. Then, after the law was signed, Bishop Olmsted addressed the challenge of the tough immigration law in a May 20 column in the diocesan newspaper.

“While civil authority certainly has the right and duty to regulate immigration into our country, and all people have the duty to obey the law, the fact that our current immigration system is broken and in need of reform is abundantly clear,” he wrote.

“No one’s dignity is served well by our current system,” the bishop wrote. “The need for humane and effective immigration reform on the national level has become painfully clear once again.”

For weeks, opponents of the law have maintained a vigil at the Capitol. The vigil will continue, according Maria Uribe.

If recent polls are anything to go by, the thousands who showed up at Tempe Diablo Stadium in support of the law are in the majority – nationally.

The long list of event speakers included Ted Hayes, known for his activism on behalf of the homeless, Anna Gaines of American Citizens United, and Lou Ferrigno, known for his portrayal of the Incredible Hulk.

But the showstopper was Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who spoke at the end of the four-hour event.

When the law takes effect, this sheriff will enforce it,” he said, to cheers. While many of the law’s critics say it will lead to racial profiling, Arpaio expressed his confidence in law enforcement. Officers and deputies would not racially profile, he said.

He said he’d have room for those they arrest in the Tent City detention center.

“I’m stacking those tents up,” Arpaio said. “I will always have room.”

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Pearce, who was shot by an undocumented immigrant in 2004, also spoke. The sheriff’s deputy is the son of Republican Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator who wrote the law.

“It gives us the authority to enforce the laws already on the books,” he said of S.B. 1070.

The event was, at least in part, a response to some national leaders who have called for boycotts of Arizona to protest the law.

Gina Loudon, a political analyst and founder of the St. Louis Tea Party, organized a “buycott” of Arizona to counter the boycott and generate support for business in the state.

“America, this is our Alamo,” she said to the crowd. “We are going to defeat their boycotts with our buycott.”

About 68 percent of Americans oppose boycotts of Arizona, according to a recent poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports.

“Arizona is just trying to avoid a bankruptcy,” said Phoenix resident Pat Smith of S.B. 1070. “Hopefully, it prevents amnesty from taking place.”