HEREFORD, Ariz. (AP) — Tea party groups converged on a remote section of the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday to show support for Arizona’s controversial immigration law and hear from more than a dozen conservative speakers, many of them candidates running for office in crowded Republican primaries.
Several speaking to the crowd of more than 400 demanded Congress and President Barack Obama devote more resources to increase border security in remote areas like the site of Sunday’s demonstration southeast 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.
Obama on Friday signed a bill directing $600 million more to securing the U.S.-Mexico border — money that will pay for hiring 1,000 more Border Patrol agents along with customs agents, communications equipment and expanded use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
A federal judge last month delayed the most contentious provisions of Arizona’s law, including a section that would require officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally.
On Sunday, demonstrators drove about four miles on a rutted and rocky dirt road to reach a remote private ranch 70 miles east of Nogales where the steel posts of the Arizona-Mexico border wall are set inches apart to prevent people from crossing into the U.S.
The rally was the most recent in a long line of sweaty demonstrations staged by activists on both sides of the debate over Arizona’s law.
Supporters have rallied in parks and baseball stadiums. Opponents have marched through downtown Phoenix, decrying a law they say would lead to racial profiling, conflict with federal immigration law and distract local police from fighting more serious crimes.
Several candidates and tea party groups passed out free water to visitors on the ranch Sunday where temperatures hovered around 100 degrees.
Hundreds of small U.S. flags and messages were attached earlier to the fence posts by opponents of illegal immigration. The fence, about 15-feet tall and built in the last decade, barely conceals the old barrier still standing behind it — a short, flimsy barbed-wire fence.
One message, attached to a flag on the border wall, read, “Mister President … Secure This Border For America.”
“It’s time for us to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to leave our country like this to our children and grandchildren,” said Jim Howard, 61, who is retired from the Air Force and now works at Walmart.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough enforcement of immigration laws in Arizona’s most populous county, said more law enforcement officials should adopt his hard-line stance to prevent illegal immigrants from settling in after they’ve successfully crossed the border.
“Don’t just say border enforcement, that’s a cop-out,” he said. “Let’s say lock them up in the interior.”
Arpaio 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.
A small group of counter-demonstrators made their way into the rally and were asked to leave during Arpaio’s speech when three people stood and turned their backs on the sheriff in silent protest.
Alison McLeod, one of the counter-demonstrators who lives near the border south of Bisbee, said the law won’t do anything to curb immigration.
“You’re not get to the root of the problem by scapegoating people and by building walls,” she said. “We need a just immigration policy that allows people who want to work to come here to work, and when the growing season is over, they can go back.”
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 drug smuggling has left her feeling less safe in her home in recent years.
“My government should protect me so I can feel safe on my own property,” said Bayley, with red, white and blue beads strung around her neck as she found a small patch of shade against the steel border 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 immigration probably doesn’t affect him as much as others because migrants pass through his area to live in communities farther north.
Nanatovich said he’s rarely worried about his safety, but the death in March of rancher Rob Krentz, who was gunned down on his property some 40 miles east of the rally site, spooked him.
“I’m nervous leaving my 14-year-old at home,” he said.