MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Police arrested 13 protesters in Alabama's capital Tuesday as they demonstrated against the state's strict new law clamping down on illegal immigrants.
About 100 people, most of them Hispanic and college-aged, chanted slogans as they marched in light rain around the state Capitol and to the adjacent Statehouse where the legislature works.
"Undocumented, unafraid," "No papers, no fear, immigrants are marching here," and "Ain't no power like the power of the people," were among the slogans the protestors chanted as they marched. Later, some were hauled off to jail in a yellow bus normally used by the city parks and recreation department.
Some sat down on Union Street between the Statehouse and the Capitol when police approached and warned them in English and Spanish that they would be arrested if they didn't move.
None did and police arrested 11 demonstrators, tying their hand with yellow straps and loading them into the bus.
Federal courts have blocked parts of the Republican-backed law from taking effect, but both supporters and critics still call it the nation's toughest state law against illegal immigration. The Obama administration opposes the law, which is calls an overreach by the state.
One of those arrested was 19-year-old Catalina Rios, a student at Henry Ford Community College in Detroit. She identified herself an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
Looking like a typical American teenager with her long dark hair in a ponytail, Rios said she knew there was a possibility she might be deported as she sat in the street waiting to be arrested.
"I know that I live in fear every single day of that, so this is no different," Rios said. "I'm doing this for all the immigrant students who struggle every day."
A Montgomery attorney who volunteered to represent those arrested, Mike Winter, said he understood they were mostly being charged with disturbing the peace, but also could be held for immigration officials.
After walking all the way around the Capitol one time, about 20 protesters entered the Statehouse and went up to the seventh-floor office of state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, a key proponent of the law.
Once downstairs, two of the demonstrators – college students Ernesto Zumaya, 24, of Los Angeles and Caesar Marroquin, 21, of Philadelphia – linked arms and sat down on the floor of the main lobby. They vowed not to leave until Beason responded to their concerns. Beason did not respond to the protest and Zumaya and Marroquin were arrested peacefully when the building closed for the day.
Both said they are immigrants from Mexico without papers who have lived in the U.S. most of their lives. Marroquin said he always wanted to be a U.S. Marine.
Beason said later that he was not in his office Tuesday afternoon and did not immediately get the message except being told there were people at the Statehouse to see him.
Beason defended the law when asked about the protest.
"My intention is to enforce what's already in place in federal law," Beason said. "I make no apologies. I'm trying to do what I feel is best for the people of Alabama."
A leader of the protest, Mohammad Abdollahi, who said he was an immigrant without papers from Iran who lives in Bessemer, explained that the purpose of the demonstration was for their voice "to be heard."