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Many northern Arizonans in an uproar over new immigration law

By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – The city of Flagstaff is poised to take the toughest stance of any Arizona municipality against the state's new immigration law. In Tucson a city police officer has filed a lawsuit. In Phoenix the mayor has taken a strong position against it. But in Flagstaff the city council has agreed they should fight this law. The council will discuss their legal options May 4. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales reports.

AMBY: Bring in protest yelling, honking, drums underneath the following scene.

The fierce Flagstaff wind did not stop more than 3-hundred people from expressing their outrage over the passage of the state's new strict immigration law. Protesters huddled, stomped their feet and shouted to stay warm Saturday in front of city hall.
SFX: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! (honking)

Maria Castillo holds a sign that says "Overturn SB 1070," the bill that was signed by Governor Brewer less than two weeks ago. Castillo says she couldn't believe Brewer approved it.
CASTILLO: I was shocked. I was mad. I was upset. I shed a couple of tears because to me this is no more than racial greatest concern is it's going to criminalize children.

Castillo is a naturalized citizen and has three children who were born here. But she fears they might be targeted by police under this law because their skin is brown. Recent changes to the law prohibit police from using race, ethnicity or national origin as a factor, but it allows police to request documentation proving immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally. Castillo says if the law isn't repealed, she'll leave.

SFX: spike some ambi here for a second as a transition to Villas
George Villas plans to stay and fight. Villas' face is red as he pumps his fist in the air.
VILLAS: I have three children I do not want them growing up in a community where they're taught to hate one people over another.
SFX: Fade out protest drums. Cross fade grocery store door. Much of Flagstaff's Hispanic community lives in Sunnyside on the east side of town. On this day it's not so sunny in Sunnyside. Many people come in from the cold to pick up a snack at Mexico Lindo, a Mexican grocery store. Isabela Rodriguez works as a cashier there and says she is planning on moving her family to New Mexico.

RODRIGUEZ: Tengo miedo para salir al calle mejor movernos donde podemos tranquilos.(fade down)

She says she's afraid to leave her house. Her boss, store owner Jose Melendez says most of his customers are undocumented so he worries they will leave too and he'll have to close his doors.

MELENDEZ: Instead of being a productive citizen contributing to the economy I'm going to be a burden on the state I'm not a young man any more I don't know if I'll be able to do physical work where's that going to put me? It's going to put me in a situation where I have to go to the state.

SFX: Fade out store amby

Flagstaff city council has been receptive to the concerns of people like Melendez, and Naeli Limonas, who spoke at the council's meeting last week. She worries the law will split up her family. Some are here legally, but some aren't.

NAELI LIMONAS: My husband got a flat tire. He called me at 11:30 at night freaking out saying come pick me up before the police get here.

Council member Coral Evans told the large crowd that she thought the law was wrong on many levels.

EVANS: I think this bill criminalizes immigration. I think it creates racial profiling. I think it creates unsafe communities because people are going to be afraid to interact with police and call in crime. (0:13)

SFX: Bring back rally drums, chanting, honking

Mayor Sara Presler voiced her concern at the meeting and at Saturday's rally. She was there waving a huge American flag.

PRESLER: Every citizen now has standing to sue not just the city of Flagstaff but also law enforcement you can be sued if you're enforcing the law and you can be sued if you're not enforcing the law. It puts municipalities in a tough pinch.

Presler hopes the council will agree to file a request for injunction to repeal the law. Her vocal opposition has spurred some criticism. In fact Flagstaff may be in the minority in the state. According to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll two thirds of Arizona voters support the new immigration law.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.