Immigration Law Supporters Rally at Ariz. Capitol

Michelle Price, Google News, June 6, 2010

Hundreds of people supporting Arizona’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration rallied near the state Capitol on Saturday afternoon in soaring temperatures.

Hundreds of motorcycle riders kicked off the downtown Phoenix rally by riding in a procession around the Capitol. Supporters waved American flags and some carried signs that read “What part of illegal don’t they understand?”

The rally’s turnout fell far short of the march organized by opponents of the law last weekend, when an estimated 20,000 people gathered.

Demonstrators on Saturday sweated as temperatures reached 105 degrees. Some shaded themselves with umbrellas and clamored to buy cold water and ice cream from vendors.

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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, perhaps best known for his efforts targeting illegal immigrants, drew loud chants of “Joe, Joe, Joe!” when he spoke to the audience at the rally.

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Arpaio praised lawmakers for passing the law and reiterated that he’ll lock up as many illegal immigrants as his deputies can arrest.

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The Pennsylvania-based group Voice of the People USA organized the demonstration, which it touted as a grassroots effort. Attendees traveled from every region of the U.S., Voice of the People president Daniel Smeriglio said.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado and GOP state Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the author of the law, also spoke at the rally.

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McClendon sported a T-shirt that read “Arizona: Doing the Job the Feds Won’t Do!” It’s one of four similarly-themed shirts she wears regularly. Her sartorial choices earn her frequent compliments from strangers–not a surprise, as polls consistently show large majorities backing the state’s crackdown against illegal immigration.

But McClendon says she also gets dirty looks from Latino neighbors and believes her stance has led people to leave trash on her car. “So many legal citizens are scared to come out,” she said. “They’re afraid to speak up.”

Earlier that day, tens of thousands of protesters denouncing the law filled the streets of Phoenix. But the rally McClendon attended couldn’t even fill the 9,873-seat stadium. It’s a dynamic that’s persisted ever since April, when Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law.

The onslaught of criticism through boycotts, protests and lawsuits has frustrated many of the law’s backers, who contend its broad support in polls–ranging from 51% to 70% depending on how the statute is described and who is surveyed–shows it is the people’s will

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Backers of the law hope a rally planned for Saturday in Phoenix will draw foes of illegal immigration from around the country. Another Phoenix rally is scheduled for June 12.

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Despite fewer events and lower turnout from the law’s backers, it appears that their message is being heard more loudly nationwide than that of SB 1070’s foes, who support reform that allows illegal immigrants who obey the law to become legal residents.

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The law’s supporters say people favor the bill because it’s common sense. And common-sense measures don’t tend to draw big crowds.

“Why should I protest [in support of] a law that says you can’t go over the speed limit?” said former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who is scheduled to speak in Phoenix on Saturday. {snip} Business and religious groups tend to support a path to citizenship for illegal workers, while the movement opposing legalization has few large groups or donors to help it.

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