Tens of thousands of protesters from across the country gathered in Phoenix over the weekend to protest Arizona’s SB 1070. According to some reports, as many as 20,000 protesters carried flags, banners and signs reading “Do I Look Illegal?” and “Where’s the change? Mr. President, how can we trust you for re-election?” across a five mile stretch to the state Capitol to demand that the “federal government refuse to cooperate with Arizona authorities trying to enforce the law.” Meanwhile, supporters of the law gathered in a nearby stadium to defend their position and deny claims of profiling and racism. Both sides, ironically enough, acknowledged the need for a federal overhaul of our immigration system—albeit with different messages.

In 94-degree heat, a diverse crowd of protesters marched to the state Capitol. While each protester had his/her own reason for marching, many agree that SB 1070, a law that makes it a state crime to crime to be without proper immigration documentation and requires police to determine the status of people they stop and suspect of being illegally, is un-American. The law is scheduled to take effect July 29 barring legal challenges.

Here’s what some protesters had to say:

“I don’t think that this law is American. I think it’s discriminatory,” said marcher Chelsea Halstead, a college student from Flagstaff, AZ. “I’m offended by it because this is a nation founded by immigrants.”

“This is not what Arizona is about, hate,” said Armando Diaz, an American citizen. “But that is what this law is about.”

“It’s my civic duty,” said Dennis DuVall, a retired bus driver. “It shows commitment. People are willing to come out and walk five miles in 100 degrees. It’s important.”

One university professor, Luis Jimenez, echoed what Arizona law enforcement recently explained to U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder—that enforcing SB 1070 will divert precious law enforcement resources away from fighting crimes and break down the trust that police have spent years cultivating with local communities:

“You’re saying to the cop: ‘Go pick up that day laborer. Don’t worry about that guy committing crimes,'” said Jimenez, a naturalized citizen from Mexico who grew up in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, a crowd of supporters—whom the New York Times characterized as “mostly white and middle aged or older”—carried signs reading “Illegals out of the U.S.A.” while “Hit the Road, Jack” played in the background. The crowd gathered at a nearby stadium to defend the law.

“We are not racists,” said Anne Hyde of Chandler, AZ. “This law is about respecting the laws of the nation and the economic impact of illegal immigration, which is enormous. My state is broke and they cost us with spending on schools, hospitals and other services.”

“The operative word in all this is ‘illegal,'” said Christine Griswold of Palm Desert, CA. “It has nothing to do with their race. It’s that they’re coming to the country illegally.”

Although those on both sides of Arizona’s law had different messages, it’s important to note the overlap—both sides support federal action on immigration. According to a recent poll, the majority of voters—for and against Arizona’s controversial law—want to see a national solution to our immigration problems rather than more state-by-state immigration legislation. The rallies in Arizona on Saturday are yet another reason why the federal government needs to take action on immigration reform.

Photo by the SEIU.