Immigrant advocates learn from AZ experiences
Immigrant advocates from around the country are meeting in Phoenix this week, hoping to learn how their counterparts in Arizona battled some of the toughest immigration-enforcement measures in the country, including the state's sweeping law known as Senate Bill 1070 and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's workplace raids and neighborhood sweeps.
Immigrant advocates hope to bring the lessons they learn in Arizona back to their own communities to develop strategies to counter President Donald Trump's efforts to ramp up immigration enforcement on a national scale.
Since taking office in January, the Trump administration has moved quickly with the president's campaign promises to build a massive wall along the border with Mexico, institute travel bans from several Muslim-majority countries, and expand deportation priorities to include nearly all immigrants in the country illegally, not just those who commit crimes.
Trump also has ended a program that shielded from deportation young immigrants brought to the country as children, who are known as "dreamers," and terminated "temporary protective status" for tens of thousands of immigrants from Nicaragua and Haiti without legal status who soon will be expected to leave the U.S. despite ongoing turmoil in their home countries.
"For me, it’s a big opportunity to hear from other people about their battles and their struggles and learn from them and also to plan forward the fights we have coming down from the (Trump) administration,” said Lucia Vazquez Martinez, an immigrant advocate from Seattle.
She is among about 1,000 people attending the National Immigrant Integration Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. The conference kicked off Saturday with a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border and wraps up Tuesday.
The decision to hold this year's conference in Arizona was made during last year's conference in Nashville, held a month after Trump shocked immigrant advocates by defeating Hillary Clinton, a supporter of legalizing immigrants without legal status.
"What happened in Arizona is now happening around the country, and people are coming to learn and plan for how to deal with this. That is why we picked Arizona," said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans, a Chicago-based advocacy organization that holds an immigration conference annually in different cities. This is the 10th year for the conference, which draws advocates from more than than 500 independent groups, according to organizers.
During a panel discussion on Sunday, several advocates from Arizona described how they used a variety of tactics, including boycotts, public-awareness campaigns, voter drives, lawsuits, protests, marches, recall elections and civil disobedience, to battle a variety of immigration-enforcement measures.
Carlos Garcia, director of Puente Arizona, described how immigrant advocates rose up after Arizona became "an incubator" for a strategy now being implemented across the country by the Trump administration. The strategy, known as "attrition through enforcement," is aimed at driving people to "self-deport" by making life "as miserable" as possible for them, Garcia said.
"Over the last 15 years here in Arizona, we've had a tremendous fight. What you see Trump doing, we've lived over the last 15 years," he said.
Puente spearheaded a lawsuit to block Arpaio's worksite raids and also organized marches, rallies and demonstrations protesting against SB 1070, the controversial law signed by former Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010.
Among other things, the law required local law-enforcement authorities to make a reasonable attempt to question people suspected of being in the country illegally about their status, which immigrant advocates warned would lead to racial profiling.
The law spurred years of protests, demonstrations, boycotts and lawsuits challenging the legislation as unconstitutional.
After numerous court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately halted many of the law's provisions from taking effect. In 2016, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued informal guidelines that local police could not detain people for probable cause merely to ascertain their immigration status as part of a settlement with civil-rights groups suing the state.
Standing on a stage in front of hundreds of conference attendees, Garcia demonstrated the battle cry his group has used at marches and rallies protesting what he called unjust immigration laws and policies.
"When migrant rights are under attack, what do we do?" Garcia asked.
"Stand up, fight back," supporters in the audience yelled back.
Immigrant advocates from Arizona credit door-to-door efforts to register more Latinos to vote with helping vote out of office Arpaio and former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the main architect of SB 1070. Apraio lost re-election in 2016 after 24 years in office. In 2011, Pearce became the first Arizona legislator ever to lose in a recall election.
"What was a symbol of fear turned into a place where a community fought back," said Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, which means "fight" in Spanish.
Tadios Belay traveled to Phoenix from Los Angeles. He is program coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a non-profit group that advocates for black immigrants.
He said he came to learn strategies that have been implemented by other immigrant groups and "share experiences (on) how to fight back against the current anti-immigrant sentiments in this country."
But Belay, an immigrant from Ethiopia, said he also saw the conference as an opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of black immigrants from South America, Africa and nations in the Caribbean, including Haiti.
Black immigrants, he said, are disproportionately being swept up under the Trump administration's get-tough immigration enforcement and deportation policies, yet they have been largely ignored by immigrant-advocacy organizations, which largely focus on Latino immigrants.
Immigration is not just a Hispanic issue, he said.
"It's also a black issue. ... We are systematically discriminated and excluded from the larger immigration movement in this country, and one of the reasons I am here is to amplify the works of my organization and also the voice of my community to create not only understanding but a meaningful collaboration," he said.