Attorney Antonio Bustamante talks about the student protests against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration policies. He also discusses his own involvement in immigration and civil rights issues that are the basis for his selection as the recipient of the inaugural Los Abogados Hispanic Bar Association lifetime achievement award.
José Cárdenas: Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. Students protest the immigration policies of Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio and show their support for dream act legislation and we'll talk about issues in black and Latino communities. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."
José Cárdenas: More than 100 young people rallied in front of Trevor brown high school in phoenix this week. They were protesting Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration policies. Police arrested six of the demonstrators. Here to talk about the protest is Antonio Bustamante, civil rights attorney and a member of the board of directors for Los Abogados. He is also the recipient of the inaugural Los Abogados lifetime achievement award. Welcome to "Horizonte." We've had you here before to talk about a lot of these kinds of issues, the same ones that were at the root of the demonstration earlier this week. I know you weren't directly involved and neither was Los Abogados but give us your observations as to what was going on.
Antonio Bustamante: Well, what was going on was the frustration of our young people here in our community over what they see as inexplicable, abject injustice by grownups who are acting badly. They do not understand the attack on the Latino community and really their parents and themselves that we've witnessed in the last three to five years here in Maricopa County. It's irrational. They do not understand why many of them are considered to be outcasts of society simply for having been brought here as infants at a tender age and who are in every way Americans, except for the fact they were not born here and being treated as though they should now be forced to leave or being treated as though they cannot now go onto university careers because those doors are closed to them in terms of financial aid and grants and funding. They don't understand it. It's illogical. It is impossible under criminal law, under the laws of the state of Arizona and the other states to commit even a misdemeanor yet they are being punished and not being allowed to take their proper place in this society and they do have a proper place in society after having been educated here and made contributions to the society through education. We're talking about the cream of the crop, our most precious people, our youth. Our future.
José Cárdenas: And so their focus is education and the denial of educational opportunities, at least for the higher-Ed level and that's where the dream act comes in because that's a pathway for them to obtain those educational benefits and ultimately legal status. So does that mean then that their anger is misdirected? Because they're not really the focus of the raids that sheriff Arpaio has initiated and it's pretty clear that the dream act is something they're pushing, that's not something that Arpaio controls.
Anotnio Bustamante: It's not but the reaction I believe is to the irrational nature of the vitriol against the Latino community. It's expressed by refusal at a national level to pass a dream act. What they did is a manifestation of their anger at the top law enforcement officer of the county singling out their community, their parents, their loved ones, their friends, for raids that separate families and do nothing more than cause misery against a whole swath of people here in our community who are doing nothing more but working hard to make a living, helping the economic engine of our state go round and round and be contributing members of this society. The idea that they are not stakeholders, that they do not have their place in our society is fallacious. These students know that. They know their parents are very good people, intend to continue to be good people and contributing members of society and the attacks upon them and their loved ones are irrational and they make no sense. They've had enough and they protested it.
José Cárdenas: And six of them as I understand chose to be arrested and apparently, their statuses are undocumented. They're running the risk of deportation.
Antonio Bustamante: They are running a risk of deportation. They're valiant, they're courageous and one would think that if you had talked to someone wiser and older, you maybe would not have done that. I'm hoping however that they will not be kept in deportation proceedings under the president's new standards for putting people or keeping people in deportation proceedings, unless they have criminal records or pose a danger to society. Under the new policies on how to enforce the immigration laws, I'm hopeful that the students will be -- will fall into that category and not be placed in deportation and will ultimately once the dream act passes because I believe it will one day, that these young kids, these young people, they're not kids in my mind. They're brave and young and brilliant. But I hope they will be allowed to take their proper place in our society because of things like a dream act.
José Cárdenas: You're one of those wiser, older people. One who's been very actively involved in these kinds of issues and we'll talk a little bit more about that. But the reason why you're being honored this weekend by Los Abogados, the Hispanic bar association, is because of your lifetime of involvement in these areas. And it's something that started when you were in college, as I understand.
Antonio Bustamante: Well, yes. We were all members of the Latino law students association on every campus in the southwest at least, and in law school --
José Cárdenas: Even before that though as I understand you walked with Cesar Chavez.
Antonio Bustamante: I was on his staff. I don't know how I was so fortunate to have that opportunity in my life. I was on his road staff. I was one of the seven men whose job it was to move him around everywhere he went and take care of logistics, take care of him, take care of big events, provide security. It was an incredible learning experience, not because of the things we did but because of the fact that we were exposed to him on a constant basis and that is a privilege. I thank my lucky stars and the almighty for it. It was an amazing education.
José Cárdenas: And then speaking of education, you graduated from Stanford University, and then you went to Antioch law school because they had the opportunity to provide you the opportunity for you to be involved almost from day one in serving clients.
Antonio Bustamante: Well, yes. Antioch law school when I went to law school was the nation's only clinical law school and from the second semester of one's first year in the three-year program, you were representing clients under the supervision of attorney professors. Plus, you had to take all the normal classes and put up with all that. And most of us felt put out by having to take all those classes and learn contracts and securities, commercial papers and all the other things because we wanted to be back in the clinic fighting and representing them. That's why we went. Of course, we had to really learn the law, too. We had to do the book learning but the great thing about that law school was that we got to put things into practice. So by the time we graduated, we knew where the courthouse was and we knew how to draft a complaint to file a lawsuit. And that was a great benefit.
José Cárdenas: One of the highlights of your career that people mention a lot is your involvement in the Hannigan brother's case. People assume you were a lawyer in that case but you started your involvement there as a law student. First tell us about their case and what your role was.
Antonio Bastamante: Well, they were from Douglas, Arizona, and they tortured some farm workers that came across their property. This was August of 1976. It led to an international outrage by the Mexican government and many others and they were prosecuted in the superior court. They were acquitted. Many people, including myself, many of us believe that was an unjust verdict. And we believe it was based on the anti-Mexican sentiment in the county at the time and that still exists to this day in the whole state of Arizona. Not everywhere, but it exists and it's unfortunate. Our role as law students in Washington, D.C. was that because we had access to places of great influence, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the national council of churches, so many national and international organizations, that we were able to organize and bring pressure to bear on the federal government to prosecute them, not for violating state laws because they had been acquitted of that, but for violating federal law. And we spent a lot of time doing political work and legal work and we ultimately were able to commit the federal justice department to pursue indictments. They received indictments. After everything was said and done, there were two federal trials. To show how difficult it is in a race-charged kind of environment to get a conviction, one of the brothers was finally convicted and the other was never convicted.
José Cárdenas: After you started practicing law, you were involved in a number of other celebrity cases. Time permits us only to discuss a few aspects of that. One was a case involving militia back in the '80s.
Antonio Bastamante: A group called civilian material assistance decided to be a one -- well, an operation to stop immigration, undocumented immigration, and they would hold up people at gunpoint, men, women, children and hold them there after doing unsavory things to them, hold them for border patrol. And border patrol would take them out of the country. We were furious about that because felonies were being committed by holding people up at gunpoint, especially against women and children. We finally got some of the members of that organization prosecuted under federal law, as well. But those activities came to a screeching halt once we were able to convince the federal government to stop it.
José Cárdenas: And fast-forwarding to the present time and there's a lot more to talk about, but you've been involved in the immigration issues and debates, representing people who have been arrested for protesting, for example, SB 1070.
Antonio Bastamante: There were many people arrested during the demonstrations against SB 1070 on the day that law was supposed to take effect because as we remember much of it was enjoined by the federal court. The parts that did take effect caused huge demonstrations. There were many people arrested here in phoenix for those demonstrations. I think 94 is the number that were arrested. Of all those cases, only six people were ever convicted of a crime and they were all misdemeanors. Everyone else was acquitted or had their cases thrown out of court.
José Cárdenas: The last question, a lot has happened since sb 1070 was enacted, those protests you mentioned that occurred. How do you see things in your mind, where do we stand today?
Antonio Bastamante: I like to look at it in an optimistic way. I think that we are -- that as a state, as a community, the whole community, not just the Latino community, I think Arizonans started to learn that it's not okay to target Hispanics, just because they're Hispanics, it's not okay to have ill will toward the undocumented just because they do not have papers. I think people are starting to understand finally the role the undocumented play in their contribution to our state and to all of society and that ugliness people felt, now that they've had a chance through sb 1070 to think they were doing the right thing by giving expression to their ill sentiments to the Latino community, because of the national reaction or they themselves -- they started to feel badly about it, I think the situation has dramatically improved. We see that in the state legislature this year. There are almost no immigration bills of the nature that we've seen in the past that harmed the community. Sb 1070 was only one. It was going to be the most comprehensive but there were many others. We see much less of that now. And we saw much less of it last year when the state legislature because of the initiative of the business leadership of the state decided not to last year decided not to pass a whole bunch of immigration bills that would have been detrimental to our community and at the least of which would have been the one that would have tried to establish that a person born in the United States to undocumented parents would not be a U.S. citizen.
José Cárdenas: Antonio Bustamante, congratulations on your awards. Well, deserved and thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about your career and about the latest involvement of students.
Antonio Bastamante: My pleasure.
José Cárdenas: Thank you.