Despite being an appalling development in Arizonan legislature, HB2281 was preceded and eternally upstaged in mainstream media by its older sibling, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070). SB1070 was a controversial law enacted in 2010 and requires all immigrants over 14 to carry identification and comply to racial profiling, stops, documentation requests, detentions, and arrests by the police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
We had the opportunity to talk to Lupe, a spirited MAS graduate, who earnestly identifies as a thug-turned-activist and organizes with Derechos Humanos and Occupy Tucson. He is just one example of how new laws spawned by racism and anti-Mexican bigotry are invading multiple aspects of people’s lives. Lupe spoke of the MAS program as being life-changing, familial, and formative; HB2281 destroyed that. He also described a night with his family, when his brother-in-law ran to the supermarket during dinner preparations, but was stopped, arrested, and ultimately deported to Mexico instead; SB1070 made that legal and common.
Our first day in Tucson also coincided with the weekly meeting of Derechos Humanos, an activist coalition which leads the local struggle for human and civil rights, increasingly challenged by the militarization of the Southern Border and its soldiers’ cruel treatment of undocumented people. The coalition’s goals include:
- Strengthening the capacity of the border & urban communities to exercise their rights and participate in public policy decisions.
- Increasing public awareness of the magnitude of human rights abuses, deaths and assaults at the border resulting from U.S. policy.
- Seeking changes in government policies that result in human suffering because of the militarization of the U.S. border region.
The meeting was held in a conference room of a library, attended by a half-dozen people with varied backgrounds and experiences – including Roberto Rodriguez, whom we were delighted to see again after his press conference. The group had a full plate with an upcoming day-long event, fundraiser planning, and organizing Know Your Rights education. We learned that Derechos Humanos helped start the Yo Soy Testigo/I Am a Witness hotline, a 24-hour service for the public to report law enforcement abuses by the local police and Border Patrol. It is not unusual for someone to answer a ringing phone during the meeting saying, “Yo Soy Testigo?”and resume the conversation outside.
After the meeting, we joined some of the Derechos Humanos folks in their post-meeting tradition of heading to the nearby El Tiradito shrine to attend a weekly vigil for deaths at the Southern Border. The Derechos Humanos meeting ran a little over time, so the vigil was wrapping up by the time we arrived, and 10 or so people, mostly middle-aged and white, were bowing their heads in a final prayer. The shrine is a popular spot in town, and was originally built for a man who, according to legend, was a “sinner” who died fighting for the woman he loved; today visitors to the shrine leave flowers, candles, and tuck written prayers for broken hearts into weathered crevices of the surrounding walls.