Jose Patino, a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant, said that he was sitting at a table under a pitched tent outside the Phoenix, Arizona immigration detention center with two other immigration advocates when a black car drove up to the curb and stopped on Tuesday morning. The driver honked for their attention and a man rolled down his passenger side window to shout racial expletives before hurling a small object at them. The object landed underneath the table as the car sped off. Patino picked up the object. It was a wrapped burrito with the words “Learn English Wetback. Go back to Mexico.” The term “wetback” is an offensive label for Mexicans.
“This is a shame that this happened in Arizona,” Patino said over the phone with ThinkProgress. He was on his second day of supporting a 14-day hunger strike by seven people who have family members inside the Phoenix immigration detention center. He continued, “The whole reason we’re doing this is because we’re doing a sacrifice so people can understand where we’re coming from.”
Twenty-five-year-old U.S. citizen Sandra Castro was sitting with her back against the street, reading a book when the car honked. She didn’t turn to look when the man hurled the burrito in her direction, but heard it land near her foot. “People have been honking all morning,” she explained. “They either honk to support or honk to counter-protest. Sometimes they’ll honk and shout, ‘go back home’ or shout ‘yea we support you.’ But folks have gotten aggressive. We have three counter-protesters who are sitting in their trucks, eating lunch. They have ‘no open border’ and ‘1800 deport’ signs.”
“I was more surprised than anything,” Castro continued. “I would have expected more hostility in 2008 or 2010. I didn’t expect this at a fast. People are [meditating] and struggling. People [have been] in prayer all day and to all of a sudden have a burrito thrown…” She sighed.
Carlos Garcia, Executive Director of the immigration advocacy group Puente AZ, was walking to the table when he witnessed the incident. He said that they had “grown accustomed” to counter protesters who come to “a lot of our events with signs. But this is a new low.”
Garcia also said, “I think it shows the bigotry and the racism of the other side. It shows the hate, especially since [these people] are on a hunger strike … It shows their insensitivity … to go out of their way to buy something and throw it at someone, it shows how horrible things are.”
Although the immigration advocates said that they filed a police report, they don’t expect anti-immigration sentiments to simmer down any time soon. This is not the first time that immigration opponents have tried to send a harsh message to immigrants. Just last week in Wichita, Kansas, a mural painted by immigrants was allegedly defaced with numerous racial slurs.
And Phoenix consistently ranks high on the annual Federal Bureau of Investigation hate crime reports. In fact, racial hate crimes rose about 40 percent from 2009 to 2010. In 2009, the Phoenix New Time reported that a Hispanic family on vacation came back to a vandalized home with graffiti that read “Pay back is a bitch, wetback” among other vulgar notes. Two weeks after Arizona’s stringent immigration law passed in 2010, a man in Phoenix killed a third-generation U.S. citizen after shouting “Hurry up and go back to Mexico, or you’re gonna die.”