Thursday, May 27 at noon, UCSB sociology professor William Robinson and seven UCSB students were arrested for unlawful assembly during a protest against Arizona’s new immigration policy, which they consider a threatening precedent. Amongst other things, the law requires immigrants to carry documentation on them at all times, and makes it a state crime to be without legal proof of residence. It also allows law enforcement to search anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant, which, protesters said, encourages racial profiling and abusive raids. The protestors were part of a larger community coalition of students and professors who said they are fed up with people being forced into what they call “second-class lives.”
The demonstration included a march around the intersection of Anacapa and Anapamu Streets outside the County Courthouse, which disrupted traffic and angered drivers. The protesters said they were trying to raise awareness of the plights of illegal immigrants by proving a point, and claimed they want Santa Barbara to become a sanctuary for illegal immigrants and for local businesses to boycott Arizona companies.
Protesters said the law encourages racial profiling and allows people to be harassed and raided on the basis of the color of their skin. They asserted that the law is short-sighted and makes “aliens” scapegoats, without addressing the real culprits of this financial crisis: irresponsible bankers. They advocated for the DREAM Act, which would give illegal high school graduates residency (provided they attend an institution of higher education or join the military), amnesty for those who are already here, and a comprehensive reform of immigration policy.
There were 150-200 people crowded on the corners as protesters marched around the intersection, as well as angry drivers, who swore and threw nativist threats out their open windows. Many students, though busy with school, came and stood with the crowd in solidarity.
Police eventually blocked the streets, and the protest moved to the intersection of State and Anapamu Streets. Those arrested sat down in the middle of the intersection, while others marched around them, some chanting to the tumbling rumble of drums and the green, acrid smoke of white sage.
Protestors acknowledged they were being disruptive, but they said that was the point. They said it went to show the level of desperation the law inspired within them, and that this was the only course of action they felt they could take. Supporters who were critical of these tactics said that the protest itself was possibly alienating a portion of their potential support base. They said that getting arrested helps no one’s cause, and that the police may not even support these regulations because it just creates more laws for them to enforce. The police said, of the protest, that they did not wish to arrest anyone and just wanted to keep people safe.
Protestors criticized the Arizona law as being discriminatory and illogical. They pointed out that the economy rests on the backs of illegal laborers, and that immigrants were being targeted as scapegoats to occlude the real problem: greedy financers. They said that laws simply were not fair; if NAFTA establishes free trade between the hemispheres, why is this not the case for labor? They said that the protest was “an outgrowth of the imperialist system” and that “if there wasn’t oppression, we wouldn’t have to mobilize for our rights.” They say that human rights transcend legal boundaries.
Bruce Taylor, a singer who rocks Spanglish lyrics, came to represent opposition with an electronic bullhorn. He said that he supports immigration so long as it’s legal. He proclaimed “I’m not a Republican, I’m not a Democrat, I’m an Independent with common sense.” He said that with the budget crisis, California can’t handle to pay for illegal immigrants. If police, firefighters, education, and national parks are threatened by the financial situation, it is ludicrous to take on anything else. However, he thinks that to deport all illegal immigrants is impractical. His solution is to cut benefits to illegal immigrants, and he argued that their economic contributions are overstated because they send much of their income south. He said that Mexico’s second largest source of income is money sent from the US by immigrants. Still, protesters counter, if people contribute to the economy, they should be able to share in the benefits.
Felipe Rodriguez Flores, a legal immigrant and co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Pueblo Action Fund, said that the event was “the result of people’s outrage against laws that target people of color” when they are the most essential part of the economy, and yet the most marginalized. He said that these laws are harmful to a healthy social atmosphere because it generates fear of the police, which leads to more chaos and crime.
William Robinson, the arrested sociologist, said that it is a fact that immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take out. He said that immigrants in Arizona are living under a reign of terror, and that he could not stand by and wait for that to happen in California. He said that protest was a moral and ethical responsibility. “Everyone in this country is an immigrant. The original people of this country are Native Americans…This is not what the United States are about. This is not what democracy is about.”
The coalition who put together the event said they learned much during the afternoon. In the future, they want to make establish more effective communication with the police. “We’re not trying to be hostile — we want this to be a peaceful movement.” They said they have an attorney who will take the case of those arrested.
They said that they are not backing down and that the problem isn’t going to just vanish. “We might not have legal rights, but we have rights — we know our rights.”