At age nine, U.S.-born Kathy Figueroa became the public face of hundreds of children impacted by immigration raids and family separation in Arizona. In a video in YouTube she pleaded with President Barack Obama for the release of her parents.
It was a bold move for a young child who was backed up by an extended family of undocumented immigrants, who had lived in the shadows at a time when immigration raids were taking place in neighborhoods and workplaces on an everyday basis.
Four years later, a turn of events has the now 13-year-old going from fear and uncertainty to thinking about what dress she will wear to her QuinceaÃ±era.
Carlos and Sandra Figueroa had been in deportation proceedings since 2009 when Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies arrested them in an immigration sweep at a local carwash in Phoenix.
But this week, the family got unexpected news: U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) closed their deportation case.
The decision is the latest in a series of cases that the federal agency has decided to close, ending deportation proceedings against dozens of undocumented immigrants who were arrested in Arizona’s immigration raids.
“After conducting a comprehensive review of the Figueroas’ immigration case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has chosen to exercise prosecutorial discretion in this matter,” authorities said Monday in a statement.
“There’s still hope, that even the most difficult cases can be resolved,” said Sandra Figueroa, 38, from her home, just a few hours after she got the news.
ICE was responding to a special request by Delia Salvatierra, an immigration attorney who recently took the Figueroas’ case. Salvatierra has been challenging the way local prosecutors are enforcing state laws: They have been charging undocumented workers with felony identity theft. If convicted, these undocumented immigrants would have a felony on their criminal record, something that could hurt their changes at legalization.
“ICE chose to do the right thing,” said Salvatierra about this week’s decision to close the case. “Maricopa County is putting ICE in a very difficult position, because normally ICE doesn’t look into the conviction; they accept it at face value.”
Salvatierra believes that the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) for racial profiling might have influenced their decision to close the case.
The lawsuit filed by the DOJ alleges that the Criminal Employment Squad (CES), a unit at the Sheriff’s Office, conducts “raids at worksites in an effort to arrest undocumented persons who are working without proper authorization.”
“These raids are conducted in a manner that results in the seizure of Latinos without reasonable suspicion,” according to the DOJ.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in May found Arpaio’s agency responsible for engaging in the racial profiling of Latinos – the result of a separate lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC).
ICE would not comment on whether the recent ruling had any bearing on their decision to close this and other recent cases.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators,” said ICE in a prepared statement.
With the DOJ lawsuit still pending, Salvatierra argued that it would be inconsistent for the federal government to challenge the constitutionality of Arpaio’s raids and sweeps, and then deport the people who were impacted by them. Doing this, she said, could hurt their case in court.
Over the last few months, Salvatierra had 35 cases closed administratively, many of them involving state identity theft charges or sweeps conducted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
She said the decision in the Figueroa case is not out of the ordinary, but it is more visible due to the public support the family has received, a petition campaign launched by the PUENTE movement and Kathy’s notoriety in the local media.
Carlos GarcÃa, director of PUENTE, said that engaging the public and putting a human face on these cases has helped close about 40 cases related to Arpaio’s immigration sweeps. PUENTE is now working to replicate this strategy in other deportation cases.
“We use the same strategy of telling the story and giving the public something to do so they can help,” said GarcÃa. “We show ICE that these are not criminals; we show that they’re families like the Figueroas.”
In June, PUENTE had at least 15 cases closed that involved people arrested by MCSO since February in the Sportex Apparel worksite raid.
The Figueroas’ deportation has been suspended indefinitely. Similar to young people who have received a deportation reprieve from the Obama administration through deferred action, the Figueroas will now be able to get a work permit -- though they won’t have a path to a green card.
Carlos Figueroa and his wife continue to work at the same car wash where they were arrested four years ago, which is now under new ownership. But with no path to a green card, Carlos Figueroa said, “We have to hope for immigration reform.”
Salvatierra believes that if Congress approves immigration reform this year, there should an exception for those impacted by the state immigration laws in Arizona whose purpose was to “uproot” people.
On Wednesday, the family will go in front of a federal immigration judge to confirm their consent for the case to be closed. The news comes as a great relief to the family, who have been losing sleep over the last few months in anticipation of the outcome of the judge’s ruling this week.
But they know that despite the publicity they’ve gotten, their story is not unique.
“There are other families like ours out there, that haven’t had the same opportunities and are being deported,” said Sandra Figueroa.
The Figueroas are part of the PUENTE movement that has been calling on ICE to grant prosecutorial discretion to families facing deportation, one case at a time. The group held a protest Tuesday morning outside the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to ask Sheriff Joe Arpaio to stop pursuing felony charges against undocumented immigrants who were arrested in Arpaio’s raids.
“Even if this is over, we’re going to continue fighting,” said Kathy.
PHOENIX – Daniel Rodriguez has been a part of the immigrant rights movement for as long as he can remember. He is gay, 27 and a law school student who hopes to become an immigration attorney one day.
Rodriguez has no doubt that LGBT rights should be part of comprehensive immigration reform. But these days he finds himself in an uncomfortable position.
“This is one of those times in which our community has to sacrifice something to have a win,” said Rodriguez.
In the coming days, the Senate could consider an amendment to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners to get a green card.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said on Tuesday that he would not introduce the amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and intends to present it on the floor of the Senate instead.
LGBT rights advocates expressed disappointment that the amendment was withheld Tuesday, the last day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.
“We are disappointed that Senator Schumer and his ‘Gang of 8’ colleagues accepted a false choice between LGBT families and immigration reform,” said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality Action Fund, “when the truth is that including LGBT families from the outset would have strengthened the bill.”
When Leahy announced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), the controversial amendment was criticized nationally. Some Republicans and Democrats said that adding protections for same-sex couples could kill the immigration reform bill.
But those who identify as both queer and undocumented, or “undocuqueer” as they call themselves, beg to differ.
“I agree that it could hurt immigration reform but I don’t think that it would kill it,” said Rodriguez, who is the chair of Somos America, a broad coalition of pro-immigrant groups in Arizona. “I think it’s important to discuss it.”
Still, Rodriguez says that if he knew that an amendment like this would kill immigration reform and he had the power to stop it, he wouldn’t support it.
“It’s hard to the point that it verges on being hypocritical,” he said. “We have built this idea of the American dream for equality, for us to be included. It’s really difficult being that we’ve done it for so long, that in order to get there it may be that we have to put somebody down.”
Dago Bailon, the Arizona chair of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), said the chances that the amendment might pass the committee or the Senate floor are slim.
“At the end of the day, I have to ask if I’m willing to sacrifice my family for this issue, at the end of the day if we can have immigration reform without this. We’ll still be OK,” said Bailon, 26.
Both Bailon and Rodriguez, who have work permits under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, have family members who are undocumented.
The argument against UAFA
President Obama has voiced his support for LGBT rights to be included in any comprehensive immigration bill. But Leahy's amendment has been sharply criticized by members of the Gang of Eight, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
“It will virtually guarantee that it won’t pass,” Rubio told Politico in an interview.
Two other Republican members of the group – John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- also made clear their opposition to the amendment, saying it would “kill the bill.”
Democrats like Chuck Schumer found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Schumer had voiced his support for gay rights in the past, but was unwilling to support the amendment, saying he believed that voting for it would cause the Republicans to walk away from the bill.
Opponents of UAFA argue that under the current immigration proposal, all undocumented people regardless of sexual orientation would be able to apply for a provisional status.
But immigration attorney and LGBT advocate Regina Jefferies explained there is a big difference between getting a temporary work permit and having a chance at a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen. This last option is not open to same-sex couples, even if they are legally married in one of the 12 states that allows same-sex marriage.
“People are not aware of the special impact that being in a same-sex married couple has when one of the members is from another country,” she said. “We have too many U.S. citizens living in exile because they can’t sponsor their spouse.”
Bailon and other advocates believe that an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) could make a difference in allowing same-sex partners a chance at immigration equality like any other couple.
DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples for various benefits including the right to sponsor a spouse for a green card.
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns it this year, immigration attorneys argue that it will open the door for same-sex couples who were married in states where same-sex marriage is legal to have a chance to apply for a green card through marriage.
Yet, that could be an administrative nightmare, according to Jefferies.
“It will be an unbalanced treatment of LGBT couples,” she said. “You’ll have situations in which people from one state or another won’t be able to petition for a same-sex spouse but they’ll be able to do it in another place.”
Paying lip service to LGBT rights
Youth advocates for immigration and LGBT rights like Mohammad Abdollahi, a member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and founder of DreamActivist.org, say there’s a split within the movement when it comes to Leahy’s amendment.
While some national organizations support the amendment publicly, he said, behind closed doors there’s pushback against it.
“Their support is not real,” he said.
Furthermore, the argument that repealing DOMA would address the needs of gay couples nationally doesn’t work, according to Abdollahi.
Under UAFA, petitioners would have to prove that they are in a committed relationship as “permanent partners.”
“Marriage law is state by state; we still have to fight every single state,” he said. “If it passes in immigration reform, it’s a federal change, regardless of laws on marriage.”
A federal judge ruled on Friday that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio engaged in racial profiling of Latinos, violating their constitutional rights in his crackdown on illegal immigration. Civil rights advocates expect the ruling to send a chilling message to other law enforcement agencies that are planning to engage in immigration enforcement.
“The order today will have national importance in deterring others across the country,” said Dan Pochoda, one of the prosecuting attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
In his ruling, U.S. Federal District Judge Murray Snow found that sheriff’s deputies engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against Latinos during immigration sweeps and enforcement of state immigration laws.
Snow said in the decision that the Sheriff’s Office had “failed to have a clear policy that required execution of the saturation patrols and other enforcement efforts in a race-neutral manner; made no efforts to determine whether its officers were engaging in racially-biased enforcement during its saturation patrols, and failed to comply with standard police practices concerning record-keeping maintained by other law enforcement authorities engaged in such operations.”
Arpaio’s attorney Tim Casey said the Sheriff's Office would comply with the order but that he would appeal the decision.
The long-awaited decision in a trial that ended last July represents a pivotal moment for Arizona civil rights organizations and immigrant rights groups that spent the last five years denouncing Arpaio’s high-profile crusade against undocumented immigrants.
At the heart of the trial was proving that Arpaio’s agency had the intent to discriminate during its immigration operations or “crime suppression patrols” and that it has engaged in a practice of racial profiling of Latinos that remains to this day.
The ACLU and MALDEF are not seeking monetary relief but say they want to end racial profiling by the Sheriff’s Office. Among the changes they may ask for are the development of a policy to ban the practice of racial profiling, active monitoring of deputy conduct and record keeping for traffic stops.
The lawsuit was brought by several U.S. citizens and Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist who was detained by deputies during a traffic stop when he was a passenger in a vehicle.
Arpaio started what he called his “crime suppression operations” in 2007, shortly after signing an agreement with the federal government – known as 287(g) -- that gave his deputies the legal authority to enforce federal immigration laws.
The immigration raids and sweeps that followed created an uproar from Latinos who felt they were being targeted because of the color of their skin. That sparked a Justice Department civil rights investigation and subsequent litigation, the ACLU-MALDEF lawsuit, and the announcement by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano that the federal government was revoking its 287(g) agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
In response to the uproar over the immigration raids, conservative politicians in Arizona, backed by Arpaio, crafted an unprecedented piece of state legislation -- the Support our Law-Enforcement and Secure Neighborhoods Act, or SB 1070 – that was signed into law in 2010, making it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant.
Arpaio’s testimony as the head of the agency was essential to the trial because attorneys were trying to prove that the discrimination came from “the top,” and that it was fueled in part by the sheriff’s public statements and his inaction in taking steps to avoid the alleged violations.
Part of the evidence presented by the ACLU included letters from constituents in Maricopa County that encouraged Arpaio to racially profile. The letters were used to underscore prosecutors’ argument that there was discriminatory motivation at the heart of Arpaio’s immigration enforcement tactics.
One of the letters, received on June 19, 2008, read: “If you have dark skin, then you have dark skin! Unfortunately, that is the look of the Mexican illegals who are here ILLEGALLY […] They bring their unclean, disrespectful, integrity-less, law breaking selves here […] I am begging you to come over to the 29thSt/Greenway Pkwy area and round them all up!...They crawl around here all day and night.”
Arpaio kept a copy of this and many other letters in an immigration file. He sent his constituents thank you notes for their support, and in some cases, like this one, he wrote notes to his staff: “Have someone handle this.”
An immigration sweep was later conducted in that area.
What lies ahead
The ruling brought a sigh of relief to many immigrants in Arizona who for years have been fearful of the Sheriff’s Office’s practice of conducting sweeps in neighborhoods and places of employment. Yet ACLU attorney Daniel Pochoda warned that there is still another phase of the trial, in which the court will decide how to make sure the judge’s injunction is enforced properly.
In his ruling, Snow said that Arpaio’s agency had failed to comply with a previous order by the court not to use the suspicion of someone being in the country illegally as a reason to pull people over or initiate an investigation.
With today’s ruling, and an effort to recall Sheriff Joe Arpaio underway, momentum seems to be building in opposition to the controversial figure.
But whether this could spell relief for those who were arrested in Arpaio’s sweeps remains unknown.
“While today's court ruling is undeniably a victory, real justice will come when the victims of Arpaio see their rights fully vindicated,” said Carlos GarcÃa, director of the Phoenix-based PUENTE Movement, which advocates on behalf of immigrants. “At a bare minimum, the White House should respond by immediately suspending deportations throughout Maricopa County.”
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Luz Ruiz RascÃ³n is a determined woman, the kind who can hold back her tears while she talks about one of the most difficult choices she’s had to make: to stay in jail and fight for her innocence.
Her son’s leukemia diagnosis was one of the biggest challenges for her entire family, up until she was arrested eight months ago at her workplace and incarcerated.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office accused her of several counts of identity theft and forgery for allegedly working with false documents. But RascÃ³n, an undocumented immigrant, claims she’s never provided false paperwork.
Her case exposes the situation of hundreds of undocumented workers in Arizona who could face charges that would deny them a path to citizenship under immigration reform.
Proposed Reforms and the ‘Gang of Eight’
Proposed reforms would force the deportation of those with a record showing a felony or three misdemeanors. Immigrant advocates believe authorities are inflating minor charges for otherwise law-abiding immigrants to unfairly drive them out of the United States.
In Washington, D.C., a bipartisan group of senators called the “Gang of Eight” introduced an immigration reform package that has renewed hope for many but according to immigration experts will leave people like Luz outside. Conservative members of the bipartisan group are now calling for even tougher restrictions in the wake of last week’s Boston bombing.
The proposed “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” would grant a work permit to undocumented immigrants provided that they don’t have a criminal record.
In most of these cases, undocumented immigrants such as RascÃ³n, age 38, take a guilty plea for the felony identity theft charge so they can be released from jail. Many don’t know the dire consequences that decision will have for them.
But not RascÃ³n. She decided to take her case all the way to trial, if necessary, and has already spent eight months in jail. Her trial is set to begin on May 3. By a state law, known as Proposition 100, undocumented immigrants with serious charges--in her case six felony counts--don’t have a right to bail.
“I had my moments of frustration, desperation,” said RascÃ³n in an interview in Spanish at Estrella jail, the Maricopa County facility that houses women.
Prosecutors have offered her a guilty plea to a lower-level felony, but this is considered under immigration law a crime of “moral turpitude,” which would make her deportable.
Delia Salvatierra took on RascÃ³n’s case almost eight months ago, and decided to defend her pro bono. She had a stake in her fight too.
In recent years she started getting more and more cases where immigrants had a specific type of identity theft felony charge on their record that would make them deportable in the eyes of an immigration judge.
When she met RascÃ³n she advised her that taking the plea could not only mean her automatic deportation but also hurt her changes to be eligible for immigration reform.
Staying in jail since her arrest last Aug. 9 hasn’t been easy for RascÃ³n. She and four co-workers were caught in an immigration raid of her employer by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In jail, she found, there is no privacy, and there are frequent lock ups that require her to spend the entire day in her bed.
Maricopa County Jails have been scrutinized by the federal government resulting from a recent lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The suit contends that some Latino inmates are discriminated against due to their inability to speak English.
DOJ also alleges that in some instances the Sheriff’s immigration raids have discriminated against Latino workers.
This is one reason Salvatierra believes the federal government could provide an exception to these Arizona workers if immigration reform passes.
‘My Children Are Above Everything’
RascÃ³n has had her moments of doubt. “I say, ‘I’ll leave if they don’t want me in this country, nevermind,’” she admitted. “But at the same time, I say, ‘No, no, no.’ I can’t throw away 20 years of my life here.
She took a job at the GNC vitamin supply company 11 years ago, eventually being put in charge of packaging the product for shipping. She starting her shift at 5 a.m., and usually worked eight to 10 hours at the $14-an-hour job. “It was a heavy job, but I liked it,” she said.
Mainly, she said, “My children are above anything. They are the ones that move me to wait and keep fighting.”
Her children, Irving and Litzzy--both U.S. citizens--visit their mother in jail as much as twice a week.
Irving, 18, drives his younger sister to school every morning, after his dad is long gone to work as a day laborer. Irving goes to a community college in the evening to study computer science.
“I know I’m my mother’s son,” he said, alluding to her care when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He’s proud of her choice to fight the charges in jail.
RascÃ³n is concerned about making sure that Irving takes care of his health.
“Sometimes I don’t want them to come and see me,” she said in Spanish. “It is sad to see them and watch them walk away, and then wait for another visit.”
County Attorney Won’t Change Plea Offers
Since 2008, Arpaio’s office has conducted worksite raids under a state civil law aimed at cracking down on unlawful employers. But the Sheriff focused on arresting workers on felony charges of identity theft.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asserts this charge is not immigration related but responds to an effort to fight the high volume of identity-theft crimes committed in the state.
RascÃ³n’s attorney, Salvatierra, counters, “I don’t believe they’ve committed the kind of offense that requires nine or 10 months in pretrial incarceration.”
Montgomery said his agency won’t modify the type of pleas he offers to people arrested in the raids. “We’re going to handle these cases the way we handle every other case, and I’m not going to pick out one group of people for special treatment. I’m not supposed to do that. That’s actually unconstitutional,” he stated in an interview.
The county attorney has come under fire by several pro-immigrant groups for claiming to support comprehensive immigration reform while continuing to prosecute undocumented workers on charges of identity theft.
“I feel he’s really after our folks and to me it's not really a criminal act--although the state has made it that,” said Rosie Lopez, founder of the Hispanic Community Forum. “These people are hard working people, they’re honest. They’ve never done anything wrong, and this is simply because they wanted to feed their families.”
Montgomery joined the Real Arizona Coalition, a bipartisan group including businesses, religious leaders and others to craft a platform for immigration reform that was released last December.
The platform, called the Solution to Federal Immigration Reform (SANE), recommends that undocumented immigrants have a path to citizenship provided that they don’t have a criminal record “other than individual identity violations.”
During a public panel at Arizona State University (ASU) last week, civil rights attorney Daniel Ortega recognized people with this type of charge won’t be able to be part of immigration reform unless groups lobby on their behalf.
Montgomery, who was on the panel, said he has “already provided all the support that I can” by contributing ideas for the SANE platform as far as who should qualify.
He said that his stance on the platform was that you “may necessarily have to look at exempting employment-related offenses to encourage enough people to come forward and make it worthwhile.”
Salvatierra, RascÃ³n’s attorney, said she was encouraged that there was more dialogue with the county attorney’s office and that he came out in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
She noted that prosecutors have a choice. For instance, they could offer a plea of solicitation of taking the identity of another, or solicitation to commit forgery.
“The Supreme Court is saying that you can take [immigration consequences] into consideration,” she said, when it comes to offering a plea.
She cited a 2010, U.S. Supreme Court decision, Padilla v. Kentucky, which determined that immigrants facing criminal charges have a right to be told of the immigration consequences if they decide to accept a plea.
The decision also says, “… informed consideration of possible deportation can only benefit both the State and noncitizen defendants during the plea-bargaining process. By bringing deportation consequences into this process, the defense and prosecution may well be able to reach agreements that better satisfy the interests of both parties.”
A Narrow Chance
Nationally groups like the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) have the joined CAMBIOcampaign – to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform that would include, among many issues, due process for undocumented immigrants.
They advocate for immigration judges to be allowed to take into consideration different factors before deporting someone who has a crime on his or her record.
But the current proposal from the congressional “Gang of Eight” offers little flexibility when it comes to being inclusive of people who might not have spent a day in jail, said Kamal Essaheb, an immigration attorney at NILC.
“DREAMers” (undocumented youth brought to the U.S. in childhood) would have a faster path to a green card under the current proposal. But they also would be subject to the same type of criminal barriers, Essaheb added.
“We’re going to fight to make sure as many people as possible are included,” he said.
Essaheb said it was true that the eight senators included provisions to exclude barring people with a crime on their record in connection with state immigration laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070.
But he said it is likely that wouldn’t extend to other enforcement, such as the case of people charged with identity theft.
Essaheb said that the lack of federal immigration reform has led to a proliferation of state laws that would exclude people depending on where they live.
“We don’t want Sheriff Arpaio deciding who should get legalized or who shouldn’t,” he said. “We want to make legalization accessible regardless of where you are or whether you live in a state that heavily criminalizes undocumented immigrants because of discriminatory policies.”
PHOENIX -- A citizen’s group called Respect Arizona filed paperwork at the Maricopa County Elections Department on Wednesday to initiate a recall effort against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The group would need to gather 335,317 signatures by May 30 of this year in order for the county to call a special election for the sheriff’s office.
Several Republican figures are at the center of the effort to recall Arpaio, who has been re-elected to his post six times since 1993. Williams James Fisher, the chairman of Respect Arizona and a Republican attorney, is expected to announce the recall effort at press conference Thursday morning.
Arpaio narrowly won re-election last November with 50.7 percent of the vote, after a strong voter registration campaign lead by Latinos took place countywide to oust him from office. His campaign war chest had over $8 million dollars, most of it coming from out of state.
Over the last five years, the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest” sheriff rose to notoriety due to his immigration sweeps in Latino neighborhoods and his raids in businesses that hire undocumented laborers.
Those actions put him at the crosshairs of civil rights lawsuits alleging racial profiling – one brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, and another filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which is awaiting a federal judge ruling.
Arpaio has also been criticized for his role in misspending $100 million in taxpayer dollars from a jail tax fund that was used to conduct investigations on political enemies and on immigration enforcement, rather than on jails.
Another scandal, one that drove many Republican voters away from Arpaio during the last election, involved the mishandling of investigations of over 400 sexual crimes against children.
Arpaio was the target of a 5-year-long criminal investigation by the Department of Justice over alleged abuse of power, although that case was closed last year without any charges being filed.
The effort to recall Arpaio comes on the heels of a successful campaign in 2011 to recall Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a Republican that sponsored SB 1070 – one of the most stringent state immigration laws in the country. Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA), a bi-partisan group lead by Randy Parraz, a long time critical voice against Arpaio’s office, successfully collected over 70,000 signatures that were needed at the time to get Pearce to face a special election, in which he lost.
“These are citizens who are organizing under the name of Respect Arizona. They came together and they made a decision that they’re going to move forward with the recall of Sheriff Arpaio, and that effort officially was launched today with the filing,” said Parraz, who supports the group.
PHOENIX, AZ – Most undocumented immigrants in Arizona either can’t afford private health insurance or don’t qualify for state insurance programs for low-income families. As a result, many seek alternative ways of meeting their health care needs by tapping into an underground market for medications, including birth control pills.
Maria (who declined to give her last name), buys Mexican-made birth control pills without a prescription from the local Yerberia (herbal medicine shop) where she also works. On other occasions, she gets the pills from her mother who buys them in Mexico and brings them back across the border.
Any discussion about the reproductive health needs of immigrant women has been largely absent from the public discourse surrounding both immigration and health care reform. Nationally, however, the use of birth control pills and whether or not they should be covered by health insurance has become the subject of heated debate among Republican presidential candidates.
In Arizona, some conservative lawmakers have suggested a bill to restrict health coverage for contraceptives if it goes against an employer’s religious beliefs.
For those already without insurance, like Maria, it is a moot point.
“[Insurance policies] need to cover the pills,” said Maria, who is Catholic but thinks her church stance on the pill is “old fashioned.”
In Mexico, birth control pills are sold over the counter without a prescription. For those that don’t have the means to make the trip back and forth across the border, the pills can be obtained on the underground market in Phoenix for $16 to $25.
In one Mexican market in Phoenix, the clerk said pills they carry such as Nordet and injected medications like Perlutal are originally bought in pharmacies in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, a beach resort in the state of Sonora about 350 miles from Phoenix, and brought to the U.S. without clearing customs. Most women know by word of mouth where they can purchase the items.
“They must be very effective, because people come and buy them often,” said the clerk.
Maria, 26, said she’s a little wary of buying them without consulting a gynecologist, but it’s cheaper and she doesn’t like the type of birth control being sold in the U.S.
“I took the injection and it made me gain weight,” said Maria about her experience with the contraceptive she was provided at a local hospital, shortly after she had her last baby.
“I already have two children. I want to be sure I won’t get pregnant again.”
Choosing to buy birth control from Mexico is not unique to undocumented immigrant women.
Dan Grossman, an obstetrician/gynecologist and senior researcher with Ibis Reproductive Health, published a study in the June 2010 edition of the American Journal of Public Health that focused on women buying birth control pills along the border in El Paso.
Some U.S.-born women, according to his study, chose to cross the border into Mexico in order to have access to cheaper birth control than they would otherwise find in the U.S., much the same way that other prescription medicines are purchased at discount abroad.
“In our research, we found that most of the brands that women were getting in Mexican pharmacies in Ciudad Juarez were the same brands available in the U.S. or in Europe. These are reputable drugs,” said Grossman.
But the fact that undocumented immigrant women are buying pills brought from Mexico under the table is less than an ideal situation, he added.
“The ideal would be that they should be able to see a doctor or a nurse, get screened and be able to access the method they want free of charge,” he said. “In a context where a woman has no health insurance, where family planning services are very expensive, and this is the only option, it's a reasonable option and a lesser evil than going without contraception.”
Grossman noted that while most pills are safe for a great majority of women, “there are some women who have contraindications or conditions that might put them at higher risk of having a problem while taking the pill.” These include a history of high blood pressure, smoking if over the age of 35 or experiencing certain types of migraines, he explained.
His research also revealed that many of the uninsured women were using the pill because they couldn’t find a more affordable option for birth control. While pills may cost anywhere from $10 to $50, using an IUD or implant can cost up to $400.
In addition, more than 60 percent of Latinas using the pill to avoid further pregnancies say they wish they had been sterilized at the time of their last delivery.
Monica Cuevas is among this group.
“I personally want to get operated on,” said Cuevas, who is saving $2,000 to have a tubal ligation, a procedure that blocks a woman’s fallopian tubes. “But I’ll take whatever [pill] I need to take because I don’t want to have any more kids”.
As an undocumented immigrant, Cuevas, 37, does not have health insurance coverage. She noted, however, that insuring sterilizations would be a more affordable option than the current practice of covering deliveries under the state’s emergency insurance plan.
For Rosie Villegas Smith, the problem is not lack of access to birth control but its wide availability combined with a lack of information.
“Immigrant women are not given information by their doctors about the side effects of birth control,” said Villegas Smith, an advocate for Voces por la Vida, a local pro-life organization.
She says she has visited Yerberias in the past to leave flyers with information for pregnant women on where to get healthcare and support in case of an unwanted pregnancy.
Another problem, she notes, is that many of these women are being pushed to use birth control by healthcare providers.
“We’ve got several reports from Catholic women that after having a baby they start receiving calls from the hospitals to make an appointment to get on birth control,” she said. “They’re pressuring them.”
Organizations like Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, are working to ensure that affordable alternatives are available to all women regardless of their immigration status.
“I think the main issue is that patients don’t have to resort to crossing the border to find birth control,” said DeShawn Taylor, director of medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Arizona. “We have affordable services for people that don’t have insurance.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Arizona politicians introduced bills last week to deny citizenship to infants born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents. A constitutional battle is brewing.
A baby born in Arizona to two undocumented parents would have a birth certificate that indicates he is not a U.S. citizen under new legislation introduced in Arizona’s State Capitol on Thursday.
The bills (identical in House and Senate versions, HB 2561/SB 1308 and HB 2562/SB1309) will certainly be challenged in federal court and are already steering a polarizing debate in a state known across the nation as a laboratory for anti-illegal-immigrant policies.
The bills introduced in the State Senate by Ron Gould and in the House by John Kavanagh, both Republicans, were crafted with the help of Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, recently elected Kansas Secretary of State. He also helped draft SB 1070, the law making it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant.
Bills HB 2561/SB 1308 would only affect children born after its enactment. They would define what it means to be a U.S. citizen under Arizona law by requiring that at least one parent be an American citizen or legal permanent U.S. resident and is "subject to the jurisdiction" of the U.S. law.
That choice of words is significant. "Subject to the jurisdiction" echoes the language of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that proponents of the Arizona legislation and similar bills in other states hope to challenge. The historic interpretation of that phrasing is that babies born on U.S. soil are eligible for citizenship.
But the authors of the Arizona bills contend that undocumented immigrants are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country, so their children cannot automatically become citizens.
In addition, HB 2562/SB1309 would require Arizona to generate separate birth certificates for children designated as Arizona citizens under the other law and those who are not citizens. Further, this legislation instructs the state to ask Congress to allow Arizona to forge agreements with other states recognizing each other’s citizenship birth certificates.
“It’s an absurd policy to grant citizenship based on GPS location at the time of birth, particularly when we are rewarding people with citizenship like a dog price, many who come in the back door,” said Kavanagh.
The legislators' goal is not to sanction children but to push for a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said. At least 14 other states could be introducing similar legislation.
The 14th Amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” It was ratified in 1868 and intended to make sure that children of freed slaves were granted U.S. citizenship.
Pro-immigrant activists in Arizona held a number of press conferences to denounce the bill, stating it would create a system of apartheid in the state, making these children second-class citizens.
“This is an attempt to scare people and confuse them,” said Lydia Guzmán, president of Somos America, a pro-immigrant rights coalition. She noted that this is part of a strategy to get people in the state to self-deport.
Rosie Villegas, director of Voces por la Vida, an anti-abortion group working with immigrant women, said the goal of the legislation is to “deport babies,” and it may cost lives.
Many women may decide to go without health services or get an abortion because of this, said Villegas, who has encountered several cases of women that made that decision in the past out of fear.
“A thing that really surprises me is how can we say that we are pro-life when we are promoting bills that will make that many women won’t have their children,” she said in reference to one of the legislation's supporters, State Sen. Russell Pearce, who supports an anti-abortion agenda.
Proponents of the legislation say the state would save millions if the laws on birthright citizenship were to change by not having to spend money on education and social services for these children. This would also be a deterrent for undocumented immigrants to come in the future.
“I don’t know why are they saying that children are costing the economy. I pay my house taxes, my food. We are always paying,“ said Bertha, an undocumented mother. “This is just creating a climate of hate towards Latinos."
The real costs that are affecting Arizona are the number of lawsuits related to anti-illegal immigration approved in the state like SB 1070, said activist Salvador Reza from the PUENTE movement.
“This divisive legislation is appalling and shameful,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network’s in a press release.
“Our legislature already dragged our state’s name through the mud with SB 1070 and by driving our economy and services into the ground. They need to stop with these divisive, counter-productive and uncivil attacks on Arizonans and our nation as a whole.”
Phoenix civil rights attorney Steve Montoya said the legislation is doomed to failure and won’t likely be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said the language of the 14th Amendment clearly applies to the children of undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a loser of a case,” Montoya said. “Moreover, the taxpayers of Arizona don’t have the money to fight this lawsuit. We need to pay our teachers, we need to pay our firefighters and our policemen and not pay lawyers to fight this law.”
Kavanagh said that if the Supreme Court doesn’t take the case, they’ll push for Congress to legislate on the issue.
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- In November, Latino Republicans in Arizona will be faced with a dilemma: Vote for the GOP, which has led attacks on their community, or vote against their party.
The choice they make may come down to their position on one subject: SB 1070. The controversial law, which made it a state crime to be undocumented, emerged as the major issue dividing Republican voters at Wednesday’s Latino Voter Town Hall hosted by Radio Bilingue.
Latino Republicans who oppose SB 1070 are worried that the law will have long-lasting effects by driving voters away from their party.
“For generations, no Latino will vote for the Republican Party,” said José Peñalosa, an immigration attorney and a member of the group Somos Republicans. In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center found that many Latinos aren’t planning to vote at all on Election Day. But in Arizona, Latinos are anything but apathetic about the November elections, especially when the conversation turns to SB 1070.
“This law is wrong and the Republican Party is making a mistake,” Peñalosa said.
Most Latinos oppose SB 1070, regardless of their political affiliation.
A recent CNN poll found that 71 percent of Latinos are against the law. Earlier this year, in a poll by LatinoMetrics, eight out of 10 Latinos voiced their disapproval.
Whether that opposition will translate into votes for the Democratic Party in Arizona’s hotly contested gubernatorial race remains to be seen.
One of the most controversial candidates up for re-election is Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law. A new Rocky Mountain poll shows that Democrat Terry Goddard is only 3 percentage points behind Brewer.
Peñalosa believes the immigration law is to blame for Brewer losing ground.
“They [the GOP] turned a blind eye to Latinos,” Dee Dee Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, agreed. “We won’t reward them if they ignore our issues.”
But unlike other Republicans who oppose SB 1070, Blase said she would not give her vote to Democrats.
Some Latino Republicans, however, do support the state’s new immigration law.
Reymundo Torres, a member of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, said he plans to vote for Brewer in November.
Torres said SB 1070 was a necessary step for the state at a time when the federal government was not doing its job to enforce its own immigration laws. Although statistics show that crime in the state has been steadily decreasing, he said he is afraid that violence in Mexico could spill over into Arizona.
Elías Bermudez, a business owner and member of Somos Republicans, said people like Torres represent a minority that is harming the larger Republican Party. Many Latinos naturally identify with the GOP, he explained, because they share many of the party's values when it comes to family.
Jesse Hernández, chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, noted that it is important to recognize the diversity of opinions among Latino voters. For example, the protests that painted SB 1070 as a bill targeting Latinos based on race, he said, actually spurred conservative Hispanics to turn out to vote for candidates like Brewer. Still, he said, most Republicans agree on key issues, such as discontent toward the Obama administration.
Republican José Torrez, a pastor who opposes SB 1070, said he was disappointed with the Obama administration because it hasn't fulfilled its promise for immigration reform and because of what he called its “socialistic” approach toward government.
“I haven’t made a decision of how I’ll vote yet,” he said. But, he added, “I think it’s probable that the governor will lose this race because of SB 1070.”
The economy is one of the key factors that will drive Latinos of both parties this November. But even when discussing the recession, most Latino voters circled back to SB 1070.
Arizona’s new immigration law has been extremely negative for the economy, according to Republican business owner Javier Zuluaga. “Arizona should focus on generating jobs and not losing them,“ he said.
But Zuluaga said he would favor Republican candidates who support lowering taxes and stimulating business.
Miguel Singuenza, the owner of a car dealership, said he has lost more than 40 percent of his clientele as people have fled the state because of SB 1070 and crackdowns by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Singuenza, who is registered as a Democrat, said he’s grown tired of marching and protesting against draconian immigration laws. The only way to bring about change, he believes, is through the ballot box.
At this point, he says, he is not looking so much at a particular party, but at candidates who care about Latino issues.