Tea party activists supporting Arizona’s illegal immigration law were rallying along a remote stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border about 70 miles west of Nogales in support of the law that a judge put mostly on hold last month.
The United Border Coalition, which is an event organized by United We Stand for Americans and the Tea Party Caucus as well as more than a dozen other groups, held the rally near a stretch of border wall made of 15-foot steel posts set closely together to prevent people from crossing the border.
Demonstrators attached hundreds of U.S. flags with messages about curbing illegal immigration to the posts and chanted, “U-S-A,” after a handful of spectators gathered on the Mexico side of the border.
One of the messages posted on the border wall read, “Mister President … Secure This Border For America.”
Several speaking to the crowd of more than 400 demanded Congress and President Obama devote more resources to increase border security in remote areas like the site of Sunday’s demonstration south of Tucson.
“We are going to force them to do it, because if they don’t, we will not stop screaming,” said former state Sen. Pam Gorman, one of 10 Republicans vying for an open congressional seat in north Phoenix. Gorman carried a handgun in a holster slung over her shoulder as she mingled with demonstrators.
A federal judge has put on hold the most contentious provisions of the law, including a section that would require officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the person was in the country illegally.
Among those speaking at the rally Sunday was Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough enforcement of immigration laws in Arizona’s most populous county. He said immigration enforcement goes far beyond the nation’s border and the Mexican Government should welcome U.S. border patrol or military forces to go after drug cartels south of the border.
“Don’t just say border enforcement, that’s a cop out,” he said. “Let’s say lock them up in the interior.”
U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth, who is challenging Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary Aug. 24, also spoke at the event. He described the border security bill signed Friday as “too little, too late.”
Betsy Bayley, 55, a stay-at-home grandmother in Hereford, said she has felt less safe in her home during the past two or three years because she’s seeing more drug smuggling.
“My government should protect me so I can feel safe on my own property,” said Bayley, red white and blue beads strung around her neck as she huddled for shade against the steel fence.
“That’s my right as an American. I should feel safe on my own property.”
Steven Nanatovich, 42, a retired Army Ranger from Sierra Vista, said illegal immigration probably doesn’t affect him as much as others because migrants pass through his backyard to live in communities farther north.
Nanatovich said he supports Arizona’s tough new law cracking down on illegal immigrants. He said he can barely leave Sierra Vista without being asked his citizenship at a border patrol checkpoint, so he doesn’t find the law burdensome.
President Obama signed legislation last week to hike the number of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents along the border. The $600 million package passed on a bipartisan basis, one of the few areas where lawmakers have agreed this year.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that securing the border is a major part of immigration policy.
“The fact that we’re deploying technology as well as additional about 1,500 agents along the border shows that we’re very serious and we have to — if we have to do more, we should do more. And that, I believe, is the view of the president,” Reed said on “Fox News Sunday.”
But after witnessing the president signing the legislation, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, said the amount requested for border security “is what we thought would be enough.”
Not hardly, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who appeared with Reed.
“I’m glad the administration has come around to support more boots on the ground, more UAVs, technology. But last year there were 540,000 people, roughly, detained coming across the border illegally. Forty-five thousand of them came from countries other than Mexico … So this remains a very serious national security problem. And I think until we do actually secure the border, until we do actually enforce our current law, I don’t think the American people are going to have confidence in the federal government.”