Local reaction mixed to controversial Arizona immigration law

WARNER ROBINS — The customers at José Marin’s store, Marin’s Mexican Food Store in Warner Robins, have been buzzing about the Arizona immigration bill lately.

“There’s a lot of controversy,” said Marin, 42, who said he’s heard people both praise and criticize the law.

According to the law, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made (by law enforcement), when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.”

Advocates claim the law steps in where national leaders fall short on immigration enforcement, while critics say the law is vague and will encourage racial profiling, especially among Hispanics.

The law has garnered national attention, and Marin, who became a dual Mexican-American citizen in 2001, has his own thoughts on the matter.

“If they’re stopping everybody, it’s going to be a big problem,” Marin said. “It’s racist. This is my country. This is my home. I am an American citizen.”

Maria Aguilera, 35, of Warner Robins, who was eating lunch at Marin’s on Friday afternoon, said the law criminalizes those who come to the U.S. in order to make new lives for themselves.

“They treat us like we’re delinquents. We have family, we have kids here. It’s an injustice,” Aguilera said. “We’re not here to do bad things. We want to help the community.”

Many Mexicans like herself end up working long hours for relatively little pay, she said.

“We’re here looking for what our country doesn’t give us,” she said.

Aguilera said she would like to see President Obama push for the national immigration reform he promised in his campaign. She feels if action isn’t taken, relations will continue to sour between the U.S. and its neighbor to the south.

“It’s provoking a war between Mexico and the U.S.,” she said.

Chema Retana, 42, a Guatemalan immigrant who lives in Indianapolis, said that while there are undocumented immigrants of all backgrounds, the law unfairly targets his own people.

“It’s very discriminatory against the Latino community,” he said.

While Retana disagrees with the law, he hopes that the controversy will lead to changes to national immigration policy.

“There needs to be reform so we can walk the streets more peacefully, without fear, to be with our families,” he said.

Marla Marzoll, 46, of Byron, said Arizona’s new law singles out certain groups, especially Hispanics, drawing comparisons to public backlash against Muslims following 9/11.

“Just because someone doesn’t look white doesn’t mean we should invade their privacy,” she said.

In the 13 years she’s lived in the area, Marzoll has seen the Hispanic population grow in all sectors of the work force.

“Hispanics do everything we do,” she said. “They’re just looking for a place to do it.”

As she sees it, the U.S. should do more to help its immigrants, whether legal or not.

“I don’t think someone comes to a different country for a holiday. They’re leaving their life behind,” she said.

Warner Robins resident Virginia Bedsaul, 23, said she can sympathize with the arguments of both the law’s supporters and detractors.

On one hand, Bedsaul feels local law enforcement must respect the privacy rights of individuals.

“If they’re not doing anything illegal, why should anyone bother them just because they look a certain way?” she said.

However, she also feels the law was enacted for the security of Arizona’s citizens.

“If you have nothing to be afraid of and are here legally, they should have no problem showing their card,” Bedsaul said.

She feels that utimately, the solution depends on the willingness of politicians to work together.

“If people come to a compromise and discuss, we will not have so many problems,” Bedsaul said.

Leonard Goolsby, 30, of Warner Robins, expressed concern that Hispanics and other groups will be discriminated against under the law because of the way it is written.

“They’ve given authority to go based off looks,” he said.

“To judge people by the pigment of their skin is just another way to do racial profiling.”

He also would be concerned if a similar law were enacted in Georgia, coupled with the South’s own racial history. Goolsby thinks change needs to happen on the larger national scale to enforce legal immigration into the country.

“Reform needs to take place to enforce (the law) in a more tactful way,” he said.

No matter their background, the U.S. attracts immigrants trying to move up.

“Everyone’s here for the American dream, whether they’re a janitor or a CEO. They all want to succeed,” Goolsby said.

Marin said he’s come a long say since he first arrived in the U.S. more than two decades ago, learning English, becoming an entrepreneur and getting married.

“(I came) to better myself, get a better life, to live the American dream,” he said.

“I have to — it’s my home.”

To contact Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.