Busloads of Southland protesters against Arizona’s new immigration law are headed to Phoenix tomorrow.
One of the activists who plans to get on that bus is teacher Daniel Barnhart. He and his wife, Monica Gomez – both avid gardeners – took a break this week from the debate over immigration to talk about Swiss chard and worm juice in their backyard garden in Boyle Heights.
"I think the eyes of the nation are kind of turned to Arizona, because what they’ve done is so extreme," Barnhart said. The new Arizona law, he said, will wreak havoc on families.
That’s because it allows police to question the people they arrest about their immigration status. "Asking people for their papers is kind of like, I mean, that’s what I learned about Nazi Germany, that was my first connection to that. I was reminded the other day, all the things that happened in Germany, they were legal, they were passed by laws," he said.
Barnhart wants major changes to U.S. immigration law because he’s seen the way immigration raids have split up some of his students’ families. Barnhart taught high school biology and is now a teacher development coordinator for L.A. Unified. He supports his labor union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and that’s why he stepped forward to help organize a teachers delegation to Phoenix for the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
But before he acted, he asked his wife. "We just got married so, things change, when you become a, now you’re a husband, you can’t just do things your own way all the time."
Monica Gomez, a consultant to nonprofits, said she didn’t want her husband to get arrested. She also wondered whether the protest would help to return decision making on immigration matters to the nation’s capital. "Especially just one day in, one way in, one way out caravan. There’s probably going to be other mobilizations in Phoenix. There’s this critical mass of L.A. folks going, just questioning the effort, but I know that at the end of the day it does make a difference, it does make a statement," she said.
Barnhart said he hopes his one-day protest will add his voice to a sizable chorus that calls Arizona’s law unjust – and that urges other states not to pass similar legislation. He grew up near the Arizona-Mexico border, and he still talks frequently to his aunt in Wilcox. "She’s a Republican, has voted for George W. Bush twice, and we don’t see eye to eye on issues. She claims to know the rancher who was shot, who was part of the whole media firestorm that kind of propelled the whole law passing," Barnhart said.
Recent phone conversations with his aunt and other Arizona relatives take him back 20 years to his youth there, when state elected officials opposed a state holiday to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Monica Gomez, who emigrated from Mexico, said visits to her husband’s home turf help her understand why some Arizonans want to take drastic measures against drug smuggling and crime. "As much as there is some underlying racism, I think there is also some truth to the struggles that unfortunately those, both the immigrant population and the long-term, maybe primarily white Arizona residents are dealing with, in this clash of the old and the new and the crime and the violence," she said.
Some people in Barnhart’s organized labor delegation plan to prove the strength of their opposition by getting arrested. Barnhart will not because a similar political action landed him behind bars less than a year ago. "I think we’re making, in some ways, a stronger statement, by saying we’re going to be here without papers, I’m leaving all that behind, and we’re going to say, ‘Look, why aren’t you arresting me?’" he said.
Daniel Barnhart, who’s 38 years old, said his Irish-American ancestors endured similar discrimination generations ago. His wife Monica Gomez added that Latinos have a long way to go until Americans overcome their prejudices. "Until Latinos aren’t viewed as the other and we are completely accepted as Americans, I think it’s just going to continue happening," she said.
That’s a big reason that before dawn tomorrow morning teacher Daniel Barnhardt will join several hundred other L.A.-area activists at Dodger Stadium for the bus ride to Phoenix. They say they hope to help along a process that will invalidate future laws like Arizona’s SB1070.