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Arizona city fights to spread compassion for migrants amid border crisis Arizona city fights to spread compassion for migrants amid border crisis
(about 4 hours later)
On a recent evening, immigrants’ rights activist Zaira Livier stood in Tucson’s Historic Fourth Avenue district, clipboard in hand, as three women approached outside the popular bar, Che’s Lounge. The women hesitated to stop at first, but as Livier explained her work, the mood shifted. One of them shared that her father had been deported. A second woman in the group revealed that her dad was deported as well.On a recent evening, immigrants’ rights activist Zaira Livier stood in Tucson’s Historic Fourth Avenue district, clipboard in hand, as three women approached outside the popular bar, Che’s Lounge. The women hesitated to stop at first, but as Livier explained her work, the mood shifted. One of them shared that her father had been deported. A second woman in the group revealed that her dad was deported as well.
“If you include me, those were three out of four brown women on a random corner in Tucson on a Tuesday night who had their families torn apart by these policies,” Livier told the Guardian.“If you include me, those were three out of four brown women on a random corner in Tucson on a Tuesday night who had their families torn apart by these policies,” Livier told the Guardian.
Livier’s own family is “mixed status”, meaning some members are undocumented, and during the Obama administration her brother was deported to Querétaro, their hometown in Mexico. He was murdered in the cartel-controlled city in June 2018, his body found dumped in the street.Livier’s own family is “mixed status”, meaning some members are undocumented, and during the Obama administration her brother was deported to Querétaro, their hometown in Mexico. He was murdered in the cartel-controlled city in June 2018, his body found dumped in the street.
She works as the executive director of the People’s Defense Initiative, a grassroots group in the Arizona city that has petitioned to add a referendum to city ballots in November that would ban local police from questioning a person’s citizenship through racial profiling – a notorious, nearly 10-year-old state law known as the “show me your papers” provision.She works as the executive director of the People’s Defense Initiative, a grassroots group in the Arizona city that has petitioned to add a referendum to city ballots in November that would ban local police from questioning a person’s citizenship through racial profiling – a notorious, nearly 10-year-old state law known as the “show me your papers” provision.
To qualify for the November ballot, the petition needed just over 9,000 signatures, and on 3 July the group submitted more than 18,000 for verification. If successful, the law would make Tucson the state’s first “sanctuary city”, and the first in the US to gain that status through a public vote.To qualify for the November ballot, the petition needed just over 9,000 signatures, and on 3 July the group submitted more than 18,000 for verification. If successful, the law would make Tucson the state’s first “sanctuary city”, and the first in the US to gain that status through a public vote.
Tucson, a blue dot in a deep red state, is a college town at heart but also Arizona’s second largest city. Younger and more diverse than the state’s “sunbelt” communities that cater to retirees, its progressive leanings are apparent in the many yard signs outside adobe houses and California bungalows in downtown that state messages like “No Border Wall”, or “Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime”. An estimated two-thirds of the residents vote Democrat, leading the Arizona Daily Star to call it a “true Democratic oasis in a Republican led state”.
Activist arrested for giving migrants food and shelter faces retrialActivist arrested for giving migrants food and shelter faces retrial
Tucson, a blue dot in a deep red state, is a college town at heart but also Arizona’s second largest city. Younger and more diverse than the state’s “sunbelt” communities that cater to retirees, its progressive leanings are apparent in the many yard signs outside adobe houses and California bungalows in downtown that state messages like “No Border Wall”, or “Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime”. An estimated two-thirds of the residents vote Democrat, leading the Arizona Daily Star to call it a “true Democratic oasis in a Republican led state”.
Some activists, including Livier, want to codify these sentiments into policy – while serving as an example for progressive activists in more conservative parts of the state. They hope Tucson’s activist community will set an example for a broader regional effort, and are seizing on the current political moment, in which national and international attention are trained on the severe treatment of migrants at the border.Some activists, including Livier, want to codify these sentiments into policy – while serving as an example for progressive activists in more conservative parts of the state. They hope Tucson’s activist community will set an example for a broader regional effort, and are seizing on the current political moment, in which national and international attention are trained on the severe treatment of migrants at the border.
“We would not have been able to pass the sanctuary city initiative four years ago when Obama was in office,” Livier said.“We would not have been able to pass the sanctuary city initiative four years ago when Obama was in office,” Livier said.
“Donald Trump has done something no other president has done. He basically took off the pretty face of what immigration policy actually is, and people cannot believe it. Most of the time when you’re out there talking to people, you can’t even finish saying the word ‘sanctuary’ before they take the pen away from you and start signing.”“Donald Trump has done something no other president has done. He basically took off the pretty face of what immigration policy actually is, and people cannot believe it. Most of the time when you’re out there talking to people, you can’t even finish saying the word ‘sanctuary’ before they take the pen away from you and start signing.”
When it passed in 2010, SB 1070 was the most fearsome anti-illegal immigration law in the US. It empowered police officers to consider an individual’s language or clothing, and even aspects of their carload, as “reasonable suspicion” to interrogate the person’s immigration status during routine stops.When it passed in 2010, SB 1070 was the most fearsome anti-illegal immigration law in the US. It empowered police officers to consider an individual’s language or clothing, and even aspects of their carload, as “reasonable suspicion” to interrogate the person’s immigration status during routine stops.
When the person suspected of being undocumented failed to prove their lawful status in the country, police were required to turn the individual over to US Customs and Border Protection.When the person suspected of being undocumented failed to prove their lawful status in the country, police were required to turn the individual over to US Customs and Border Protection.
Federal courts later found that some aspects of the law were unconstitutional, and in 2016 the so-called “show me your papers” provision became optional to enforce. But Livier said the People’s Defense Initiative still receives calls nearly every other day from people whose loved ones were pulled over and questioned regarding their immigration status because they spoke accented English, looked like laborers, or drove trucks full of gardening equipment, and ended up in custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).Federal courts later found that some aspects of the law were unconstitutional, and in 2016 the so-called “show me your papers” provision became optional to enforce. But Livier said the People’s Defense Initiative still receives calls nearly every other day from people whose loved ones were pulled over and questioned regarding their immigration status because they spoke accented English, looked like laborers, or drove trucks full of gardening equipment, and ended up in custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).
But Tucson’s rich history of immigration activism far predates the current administration – notably as an outgrowth of its many social-justice oriented religious institutions. In 1982, for example, the leaders of Southside Presbyterian Church, in one of the city’s oldest Latinx and Native American barrios, announced in a news conference that they would provide sanctuary to Central American migrants in open violation of US immigration law.But Tucson’s rich history of immigration activism far predates the current administration – notably as an outgrowth of its many social-justice oriented religious institutions. In 1982, for example, the leaders of Southside Presbyterian Church, in one of the city’s oldest Latinx and Native American barrios, announced in a news conference that they would provide sanctuary to Central American migrants in open violation of US immigration law.
At the time Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua were ravaged by civil wars and violent revolutions that the US military and American corporations played clandestine roles in, yet most refugees – including political dissidents – were being denied asylum.At the time Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua were ravaged by civil wars and violent revolutions that the US military and American corporations played clandestine roles in, yet most refugees – including political dissidents – were being denied asylum.
The undercover stings, felony charges and court battles that ensued helped inspire more than 500 other congregations around the US to join what became known as the national “sanctuary movement”. It lasted into the 1990s.The undercover stings, felony charges and court battles that ensued helped inspire more than 500 other congregations around the US to join what became known as the national “sanctuary movement”. It lasted into the 1990s.
Its legacy remains today: thousands of migrants have died crossing into Arizona through dangerously hot, arid terrain, to avoid border patrol checkpoints on highways; deaths which religious groups mourn once a month at a collective vigil with guitar playing, flowers and candles.Its legacy remains today: thousands of migrants have died crossing into Arizona through dangerously hot, arid terrain, to avoid border patrol checkpoints on highways; deaths which religious groups mourn once a month at a collective vigil with guitar playing, flowers and candles.
Some of the groups that formed out of this original movement are still active. At the bustling office of the Florence Project, dozens of lawyers and legal assistants work to provide free legal services to people in immigration custody in Arizona. The organization began in 1989, when one lawyer and a paralegal began conducting “pro se” legal clinics – teaching refugees to represent themselves in asylum hearings – at an immigrant detention center in a small prison town between Tucson and Phoenix. With a staff of more than 90 people now, the Florence Project offers direct representation to children in detention, in addition to the pro se workshops for adults threatened with deportation.Some of the groups that formed out of this original movement are still active. At the bustling office of the Florence Project, dozens of lawyers and legal assistants work to provide free legal services to people in immigration custody in Arizona. The organization began in 1989, when one lawyer and a paralegal began conducting “pro se” legal clinics – teaching refugees to represent themselves in asylum hearings – at an immigrant detention center in a small prison town between Tucson and Phoenix. With a staff of more than 90 people now, the Florence Project offers direct representation to children in detention, in addition to the pro se workshops for adults threatened with deportation.
Newer organizations are also cropping up, maintaining many of the same traditions. In one high-profile case that has been a source of significant local political action, federal prosecutors charged Scott Warren, a volunteer with the faith-based humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which stashes water, food, and other supplies in parts of the Sonoran desert, with “harboring illegal aliens”.Newer organizations are also cropping up, maintaining many of the same traditions. In one high-profile case that has been a source of significant local political action, federal prosecutors charged Scott Warren, a volunteer with the faith-based humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which stashes water, food, and other supplies in parts of the Sonoran desert, with “harboring illegal aliens”.
Warren allowed two undocumented men to recuperate in the small house the organization uses as a staging area. By allowing the men to rest, prosecutors argue, Warren shielded them from the border patrol. A trial last month that could have seen Warren sentenced to 20 years in prison ended in a mistrial. He is scheduled to be retried in November.Warren allowed two undocumented men to recuperate in the small house the organization uses as a staging area. By allowing the men to rest, prosecutors argue, Warren shielded them from the border patrol. A trial last month that could have seen Warren sentenced to 20 years in prison ended in a mistrial. He is scheduled to be retried in November.
Following the legal charges, the organization was flooded with volunteer applications, said Maria Rodriguez, a No More Deaths spokesperson.Following the legal charges, the organization was flooded with volunteer applications, said Maria Rodriguez, a No More Deaths spokesperson.
“Border residents are dealing with violence and atrocities that are happening in their backyard, and they’re having a really innate human response to it,” Rodriguez added. “Humanitarian aid is a commonly held community value in the borderlands, and if you’ve ever gone out on a 110-degree day in the desert it’s really easy to understand why.”“Border residents are dealing with violence and atrocities that are happening in their backyard, and they’re having a really innate human response to it,” Rodriguez added. “Humanitarian aid is a commonly held community value in the borderlands, and if you’ve ever gone out on a 110-degree day in the desert it’s really easy to understand why.”
Casa Alitas, a Catholic Community Services program of volunteer-run “hospitality centers” in Tucson that has hosted 20,000 asylum-seekers since 2014 – 12,000 of whom have arrived since January – is another popular newcomer.Casa Alitas, a Catholic Community Services program of volunteer-run “hospitality centers” in Tucson that has hosted 20,000 asylum-seekers since 2014 – 12,000 of whom have arrived since January – is another popular newcomer.
In the sanctuary’s pews, as people go through intake, volunteer doctors and nurses begin initial medical assessments. Fresh clothes are available, meals are served three times a day, and nonperishable food bags are provided for the journey ahead. There are even ESL classes and an arts-and-crafts room for the kids.In the sanctuary’s pews, as people go through intake, volunteer doctors and nurses begin initial medical assessments. Fresh clothes are available, meals are served three times a day, and nonperishable food bags are provided for the journey ahead. There are even ESL classes and an arts-and-crafts room for the kids.
“This was a way for me to step up. I think of it like an above-ground underground railroad, and I’m really happy to be a part of it,” said Mary Pat Sullivan, a volunteer cook, who was pushing a cart of food donated by Trader Joes.“This was a way for me to step up. I think of it like an above-ground underground railroad, and I’m really happy to be a part of it,” said Mary Pat Sullivan, a volunteer cook, who was pushing a cart of food donated by Trader Joes.
By providing food, free legal aid, or policy proposals, activists in the borderland city are responding to the administration’s hostility toward immigrants by emphasizing a sense of community and shared humanity.By providing food, free legal aid, or policy proposals, activists in the borderland city are responding to the administration’s hostility toward immigrants by emphasizing a sense of community and shared humanity.
“The message we want to send is exactly the opposite of the message that SB 1070 sent to all of us who were undocumented and migrants,” said Livier. “It’s that we’re here for you, we care for you, we value you, and we want you to be safe, and to belong, and to live your life like everyone else lives their lives in Tucson.”“The message we want to send is exactly the opposite of the message that SB 1070 sent to all of us who were undocumented and migrants,” said Livier. “It’s that we’re here for you, we care for you, we value you, and we want you to be safe, and to belong, and to live your life like everyone else lives their lives in Tucson.”
US immigrationUS immigration
ArizonaArizona
US-Mexico borderUS-Mexico border
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