Protesters Face Trial on One-Year Anniversary of Arizona's Anti-Immigrant Law
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Today marks the one-year anniversary of the enactment of parts of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, known as SB 1070. A trial is beginning in Phoenix for those arrested last year while protesting the bill by blocking the entrance of the Maricopa County jail. Among those facing misdemeanor civil disobedience charges is Rev. Peter Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Rev. Morales was elected the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2009. He joins us from Phoenix to talk about why he was arrested and his outspoken criticism of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s sweeping raids of Latino neighborhoods. “I participated in this not as a political act, but as an act of religious witness. My own faith is founded on a principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, of compassion and equity and democracy,” Morales says.
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Morales, you join us in Phoenix just before going to court. Explain the situation there. Why will you be in court today?
REV. PETER MORALES: Well, I’ll be in court. It’s taken a long time; it’s been a year since I was arrested. And as you said, it’s a misdemeanor charge. But what I believe is important about this is it’s an opportunity to, once again, bring before people the outrageous violation of basic human and civil rights that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department has been perpetrating for some time.
I participated in this not as a political act, but as an act of religious witness. My own faith is founded on a principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, of compassion and equity and democracy. And these, to us, sacred principles are being violated here in Arizona.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Reverend Morales, I’ve often said on this show that I believe that Arizona has become the new Alabama, as the symbol that Alabama represented during the civil rights movement, and that Joe Arpaio is the new Bull Connor.
REV. PETER MORALES: Absolutely.
JUAN GONZALEZ: How has he been able to stay in office? I know you’ve been trying to press the Justice Department on a continuing investigation that it has of his office?
REV. PETER MORALES: Oh, absolutely. And in fact, a letter is being delivered today to the Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The violations of civil rights here in Arizona are flagrant. There’s so much evidence to that effect. And I am deeply disappointed in our Department of Justice—it’s supposed to defend these basic human and civil rights of Americans—has failed to take action. They’ve been investigating for years now, and it goes on and on and on. It’s time to bring Joe Arpaio to justice. He’s the real criminal here.
AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly did you write in your letter to the Department of Justice this week?
REV. PETER MORALES: Well, I recount some of the events that have happened, and I call upon them to move forward. They have a constitutional responsibility and a legal responsibility to defend all of our rights. And when rights of—voting rights, when people are being profiled, when there are these sweeps that terrorize neighborhoods going on, that are clearly illegal, and then the brutality and the treatment of so many prisoners—it’s been well, well documented—it’s time for our Department of Justice to take action.
JUAN GONZALEZ: There are many people across the country, who are not from Arizona or don’t know the situation in Arizona, who may not be familiar with some of the specifics of the tactics that Joe Arpaio has been using. I know you’ve been to Nogales, interviewed people who have been deported, what happened to them.
REV. PETER MORALES: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about some examples of what’s been going on that you consider flagrant human rights and civil rights violations?
AMY GOODMAN: I think we may have just—
REV. PETER MORALES: The day I was arrested, you know, I—
AMY GOODMAN: There we are. Reverend Peter Morales, continue.
REV. PETER MORALES: OK, I mean, a year ago when I was arrested, it was fascinating to see the difference between the treatment of people who were protesting and arrested by the Phoenix Police Department, which was very professional, and then the Sheriff’s Department here in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, that gratuitously had handcuffs that cut into people’s wrists, that—I mean, myself, I’m in my mid-sixties and a kind of pudgy, gray-haired guy. When they took me in, they jammed my arm behind me. And just on purpose, it was done, in order to inflict some pain, just because they can do it and get away with it. I saw a young man, a fellow prisoner, being shoved and then taken in a room. And the next morning I saw bruises all over his back. He had clearly been beaten by the Sheriff’s Department. It’s something we should, as Americans and Arizonans, all be ashamed of, to have a rogue law enforcement agency like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the awareness? I mean, you’re the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, which is a national organization.
REV. PETER MORALES: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How high up is immigration in the activism of this organization? How aware in the rest of the country? You’re in Phoenix right now.
REV. PETER MORALES: I’m in Phoenix right now, and our national convention that we have every year, next year is going to be in Phoenix. And we have designated it a "Justice General Assembly." This is by an act of delegates from over a thousand congregations meeting together last year. So this is a top priority.
We have a campaign we call “Standing on the Side of Love.” We believe that we are called as religious people to stand with those that are marginalized in our society and scapegoated. And right now, one of the groups that is most in that situation are migrants. And there’s an important piece of racism in this. You know, there are thousands and thousands of undocumented workers from Canada, from the United Kingdom. And we’re not having sweeps in New York City or Boston to round them up. So there’s a troubling anti-Latino racist element to this. As a religious people, we feel called to say that’s not right. Those are not American values. Those are not religious values of people of faith in this country. And it’s our responsibility to bear witness to these injustices.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what do you say to those Americans who will argue that you’re confusing the rights of legal immigrants to this country with those who are here who are undocumented, that the undocumented don’t have the same claim to the protections of our government, since they came into the country illegally to begin with?
REV. PETER MORALES: Well, first of all, the issue of documentation is very complicated, because there’s a myth that if somehow I’m in Mexico or I’m in Guatemala, I can apply to come in legally. It’s impossible. I know so many people, highly educated teachers, who were even here on a temporary work permit, could never move toward citizenship. So, on the one hand, that’s a myth.
But what I’ve been protesting, and fellow Unitarian Universalists have been protesting, isn’t even about the particulars of immigration policy. It’s about the treatment of people and treating them as if somehow they’re subhuman or they’re terrorists, when they’re people who have lived here among us for 10 years. Some of them came over as toddlers and have no memory of ever having been in Mexico or Guatemala or Nicaragua, and yet they live in fear of, you know, of getting stopped for a minor traffic offense, not having a driver’s license, and then being deported within hours. It’s an outrageous situation, that no matter what you believe about immigration policy, none of us should tolerate that kind of treatment of our fellow human beings.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reverend Peter Morales, I want to thank you for being with us, going to court today protesting Arizona’s law around immigration.
REV. PETER MORALES: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, elected in 2009, the organization’s first Latino president. And as we go out, speaking of reverends, eleven people, including members of the clergy, were arrested at Capitol Hill Thursday, protesting the Republican budget plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, in return for raising the federal debt ceiling. The protesters occupied the center of the Capitol Rotunda, praying and singing for 30 minutes, were arrested one by one. They were organized by the president of Common Cause, the Reverend Bob Edgar.