PHOENIX — On Wednesday July 28, hundreds of people gathered outside the State Capitol for their 102nd day. They called it the “Gran Vigilia” or “Great Vigil,” and prayed that SB 1070, the controversial law concerning undocumented immigrants, would not go into effect Thursday July 29.
Within a few hours, some of their prayers were answered.
A federal judge issued an injunction blocking the harshest aspects of SB 1070 until the court makes a final decision on a lawsuit brought by the federal government against the State of Arizona. As of now, living as an undocumented immigrant in Arizona is not a state crime.
At the vigil, the relieved group prayed in a mass to give thanks for the news. But several people admitted the fight is far from over. They pointed out that law enforcement in Arizona has persecuted undocumented immigrants for years.
Despite the judge’s ruling, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has promised a large-scale operation to capture undocumented immigrants through traffic violations and bring them to his “tent city.”
Since SB 1070 was signed by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, hundreds of families have left the state.
But the majority have stayed put.
“We weren’t willing to jump this ship until we heard from the judge,” said Jaqueline Siensen, 38. “This was wrong all along, we come here to work, we are not criminals. And we feel we are a part of the economy of Arizona.”
Salvador Soza, an undocumented immigrant said he felt relief after hearing about the injunction. “Now I’m going to be able to drive freely,” said the 32-year-old immigrant.
Attorney Stephen Montoya, who represented a police officer in one of the pending lawsuits challenging SB 1070, stopped short of calling it a victory, but rather an opportunity to bring peace over an issue that has created division and tension in the community.
“It’s a significant decision politically, but legally, honestly it ought not to be a significant decision,” said Montoya. “I think the judge simply enforced the law that has existed in the United States decade after decade. The United States Supreme Court has always said that the federal government was in charge of immigration law.”
Other opponents of SB 1070 were skeptical as well.
“It means that we have a temporary breather,” said Salvador Reza, an organizer from the PUENTE Movement.
One of the law’s provisions U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton left in effect allows local police to charge day-laborers (who are often picked up for a day’s work off the street) for impeding traffic.
“It’s just the beginning of the fight, we will continue with our civil disobedience,” said Reza.
The activists argue that immigrants are still in a very vulnerable position in Arizona, a place with several strict laws affecting immigrant communities, and infamous figures like Sheriff Arpaio who will continue to conduct raids.
Andrew Thomas, a co-author of SB 1070 and former Maricopa County Attorney lamented that the judge’s decision “cut the heart of the law.” He promised the ruling would be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court if need be.
But Thomas celebrated that parts of SB 1070 will go into effect–in particular the provisions affecting day-laborers.
“We can sue police departments for not enforcing it,” he said.