WASHINGTON -- Five Arizona women painted a picture of abuse, terror, and civil rights violations during a special hearing Thursday before Congress about the impact of a state law that would make it a crime to be undocumented.
Fighting back tears, Celia Alejandra
Alvarez, 30, described how she was detained in a workplace raid,
physically abused, and incarcerated without medical care in February
“It’s true what’s happening in Arizona; we are
discriminated against,” said Alvarez to a roomful of people. She said in
an interview that her experience is an example of the climate that led
to SB 1070 and the danger that this law poses to other families.
Silvia Rodríguez, Alma Mendoza, Sylvia Herrera, and 10-year-old
Katherine Figueroa were invited to testify at a special hearing on the
impact of the new Arizona law SB 1070 by Congressman Raúl Grijalva
(D-Arizona). During their visit they also met with members of the Obama
administration’s labor department.
The delegation’s concerns
were not limited to the potential impact of the law that will take
effect July 29. The women’s testimony also underscored concerns about
civil rights violations and abuse by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s
Office that have been taking place in Arizona since the federal
government signed a 287(g) agreement with that agency. The agreement,
which has been limited since then, allowed the sheriff’s office to train
160 of its deputies to enforce immigration laws.
myself why did I suffer so much. I was only working. Each check I won
was earned through my own sweat. My job was to clean highways and
streets no matter if it was sunny or cold,” said Alvarez.
filed a lawsuit in February against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s
Office after being detained in a worksite raid at a landscaping company.
She alleged that a deputy dislocated her jaw while trying to pull her
out of her hiding place, and another one hit her with a clipboard for
talking to other people who were being detained.
“I only have
one question for President Obama and Congress: Aren’t we all human? My
blood is red, and I imagine yours is too. And I ask myself, why do you
ask us for papers to work and not to go to war?” said Alvarez.
times one loses their life trying to find this dream, but the saddest
is when one loses ones own dignity,” she said.
The mother of
four spent three months in jail, where she said she was denied medical
attention and was the victim of racial slurs and discrimination. What
Alvarez regrets the most is the trauma her children suffered while she
Kathy Figueroa, a 10-year-old who was
separated from her parents during a raid last year, bore witness to the
experience of children.
“It was very hard for me. Every time
when I went to school I kept thinking that maybe I would see my parents
when I came home,” she said addressing the congressman. “I would also
have bad dreams, like the deputies were taking my family and me to
Figueroa has been known to the local Arizona media since
she appeared in a YouTube video asking Obama, as the father of two
daughters, to pass immigration reform and help her parents to be
released. She also marched with other children to protest the actions of
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County.
“Not only are parents
fighting back; their kids are doing the same thing to change the laws
that are separating us from our parents,” she said.
help us. Children don’t know what to do without their parents. I feel
bad about the new law SB 1070. I can’t be with my family in my car
because the police will take my family away to jail.”
Rodríguez, 22, represented the voice of undocumented students during the
hearing. She and her family came to the United States with a visa when
she was two years old, but it has since expired.
“I did not have
control of where I was born, or what my parents did when I was two
years old,” she said.
A couple of years ago her family left
Arizona due to the anti-immigrant climate. She remained behind to finish
her college education with two degrees in political science and Chicano
studies. Despite having faced roadblocks to finance her education -- in
Arizona undocumented students have to pay out-of-state tuition --
Rodríguez managed to get accepted at Harvard where she will go this fall
to work on a Masters in education.
“It is ironic that the most
prestigious university in the world has invited me in, has said that I’m
welcomed, and believes that I’m worthy and of value to society. Yet the
state that I call home criminalizes me, dehumanizes me and makes me
feel unworthy of existing. Let alone of an education,” she said.
called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act, a law that would allow
students like her to legalize their status. She said in an interview
that she doesn’t believe in the concept of immigration reform as it is
being framed today, with a focus on enforcement, and stressed the
urgency of legalization for students.
Alma Mendoza, 40, a mother
of three and a survivor of domestic violence for 15 years, described
the impact SB 1070 is already having on people like her. In her
neighborhood, she said, a husband killed his wife because she was afraid
to call the police due to the new law.
“There are going to be
many women who would fearfully remain silent. They won’t only be
intimated by their husbands and partners but the police too,” she said.
Dr. Sylvia Herrera, an organizer with the PUENTE movement, said the
issue of human rights violations is not new for Arizona.
are living in a dangerous time in Arizona. If President Obama does not
intervene on SB 1070 the whole country will be overcome with a climate
of change, and that will be pure hate,” she said.
underscored that SB 1070 has already emboldened not just the police but
individuals to discriminate. She said there are also concerns that the
law could be enforced in the context of schools.
are on a constant emotional rollercoaster. Their innocence is being
robbed by putting them in a situation where they have to take adult
responsibilities,” said Herrera.
The PUENTE movement documented
older allegations of abuse and racial profiling and sent them to the
Department of Justice 18 months ago. The Department of Justice initiated
an investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office.
that investigation? Why does it continue to be pending?” Herrera asked.
idea of testimonies from the Arizona delegation came about after a
group of women from across the country arrived in Arizona to gather
testimony about the impact of SB 1070.
“We are going to be
asking the Obama administration to become part of the legal challenge
that is necessary (against SB 1070),” said Congressman Grijalva.
is not a question of criminality in Arizona. It’s a question of
fairness and justice in Arizona,” said Congressman Luis Gutierrez,
D-Ill., who criticized the administration’s decision to send the
National Guard to the border and advocate enforcement only.
congresspersons attended the hearing on Thursday.
showing yourselves to be true Americans,” Jared Polis, D-Colo., told the
women at the hearing. “It is my hope that sooner rather than later the
American people, who are good people, would allow the laws to catch up
with reality and welcome you.”
Arizona Immigrant Women Testify in Congress Against SB 1070
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Subject: Arizona Immigrant Women Testify in Congress Against SB 1070