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State's new immigration law worries Arizona soldier

By Paul Vercammen and Thelma Gutierrez, CNN
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Immigrant soldier reacts to Arizona law
  • Pfc. Jose Medina expressed his concern over Arizona's new immigration law
  • Medina's friends and family talked about new law during his farewell feast
  • Medina wondered if some of his undocumented friends, family would leave the area

Phoenix, Arizona (CNN) -- At a vigil protesting the passage of Arizona's tough new illegal immigration law, a young man in Army fatigues and a beret lit a candle at a makeshift shrine.

Pfc. Jose Medina, an Army medic, came to the Arizona capitol while on leave, to express his sadness over the law, signed by Arizona's governor on Friday.

"I'm here because this is something that's close to my heart," said Medina. "I went off to protect this country, to protect my family. That's what hurts."

The new law requires immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there is reason to suspect that they're in the country illegally. Critics fear the law will result in racial profiling.

The bill "strengthens the laws of our state. It protects all of us, every Arizona citizen, and everyone here in our state lawfully. And it does so while ensuring that the constitutional rights of all in Arizona remain solid, stable and steadfast," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said.

Medina, 20, is from El Mirage, a working class Latino community northwest of Phoenix.

"When I first joined the military, they would ask us where you from, and I would say 'I'm from the great state of Arizona,' " Medina reflected. "I was raised here, I grew up here. Now I don't know if I can say that so proudly. I don't know if I want to live here anymore."

Medina says he came to the United States from Mexico illegally when he was 2 years old.

When he was 11 years old he became a legal resident of the United States and now has a green card.

Gallery: Protesters at Arizona Capitol
Video: Phoenix mayor slams immigration law
Video: Arizona cops: We won't profile

"I felt I had a huge debt to this country that's given me so much," Medina said. "When I heard the law that passed, I couldn't believe it. Because the America I know, freedom, liberties we enjoy, are for everyone and then this law passes and I'm like 'wow.' It's a shame; it's a state that doesn't even want you here? If I take this uniform off I'm just another person who came here illegally."

Just six hours before shipping off, Medina's family and friends gathered for a farewell feast. The Mexican barbecue could be smelled a block away.

Impassioned conversation about the controversial law could be heard over the scratching of forks and knives on plates of tangy barbecue.

"You may go to Afghanistan, you may go to Iraq," said Medina's close family friend Victor, who did not want his full name used. "After this night man, we may not see you again. You can give your life for this country. But your mom may be stopped by Joe Arpaio (the Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff known for aggressive policing.)

"That's true," Medina answered. "But it's my duty to go."

"You're Mexican," Victor said.

"I am of Mexican descent," said Medina. "But I have grown to be an American."

Ricky, 22, a friend who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is white and stops eating.

"We are all brothers over there," said Ricky, who did not want his full name used.

Before the sun rose over Arizona on Sunday morning, Medina left El Mirage for deployment to Germany.

Jose Medina wondered if some of his family members or friends, some of whom are undocumented, would still be in El Mirage when he returned.

"I worry will my family live in peace," he said. "What good is keeping us safe here ... if we lose a part of what makes America so great? If we drive fear into our own peoples' hearts?"