OSCAR LEON: Phoenix, Arizona, has been called “ground zero” in the fight of Latino families against harsh immigration laws, which have been separating families and sowing fear in an entire community, affecting as much as 40% of the city’s population for more than a decade now.
This is the Arizona Center of Empowerment. Here, with piñatas and cake, a couple dozen activists celebrate 6 years of the DACA program, short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which was created by President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012.
ALDO GONZALEZ: We have been attacked here in Arizona for a long, long time. Before Trump we had Arpaio, we had SB1070, Jan Brewer, police and ICE working together. So we have been attacked for a long time and we had to learn to fight back. And we have been fighting back, we have been winning, we got rid of Arpaio, we raised the minimum wage; that proposition got more votes than any other candidate, that entire election cycle. And we are just getting stronger.
OSCAR LEON: Aldo Gonzalez is one of the project leaders here, and the leading voice in today’s meeting. He calls the demographics of the city and the state as one of the deciding factors in this political fight.
ALDO GONZALEZ: We have a fighting chance, and we are getting to the tipping point when we are going to start winning. And from that point, there is no turning back. No matter what the other side does, they are not going to be able to stop us.
OSCAR LEON: DACA allows for some individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of Deferred Action from Deportation, and to become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. However, unlike the Dream Act, DACA does not allow a path to permanent residence or voting rights. Yet that has not stopped these young activists and DACA recipients from building political power of their own.
ROY VISUETT: One of the main things that we do is to canvas. We go door to door, we to to individual houses, to really build people’s power. That is what the state project is about. Relying on the sole foundations of our community, rather than big donors. The membership dues range from $10 to whatever they can afford, to get away from the big founders and the strings that come attached to it.
OSCAR LEON: Not only they successfully launched the proposition to raise the minimum wage, and they get thousands of nonpartisan registrations to vote, but they are causing impacts in the community in areas like education, as well. For example, Pedro Paredes is organizing a non-partisan panel in education with candidates to various posts. They will discuss initiatives to improve education in the state.
PEDRO PAREDES: So a lot of parents have been living for issues like immigration. They are scared to send the kids to school, because they feel they may never come back. Also because of funding cuts, and feeling they could find something better. I think in the whole district they were around 600 to 800 students leaving. It is a big big drop. That is why ACE has partnered with [Arizona Education Association] to implement community schools.
OSCAR LEON: They are a community organization, born from the first wave of resistance against SB1070, the “racist law,” which eventually was taken down by the supreme court. At the time this was viewed as a victory by a community that organized in force, now almost 10 years after, they are trying to replicate that success
ABRIL GALLARDO: The reason I got involved in 2010, it is because I was scared. My family being undocumented, and having that law it would result in the separation of my family. So like many families in Arizona my family is a product of that fear that SB1070 saw in the community. We just decided to fight back.
OSCAR LEON: To be clear while President Obama did sign the Dream Act, and the DACA Programs, to prevent children from being deported, these same Latino families used to call him “Deporter in Chief.” The Democratic President’s administration deported a record 5 million people. This extreme measure also affected many more millions of people across the U.S., who had a family member or friend deported.
MARY LOU SANDOVAL: So my aunt’s life has been impacted by fear, in that she is just a prisoner here. This is what she has known for 25 years, she has raised her children here and she lives inside her home, she is scared to go to Walmart, or wherever.
OSCAR LEON: Veronica Benitez, 21 years old is a volunteer at the center.
VERONICA BENITEZ: We have a lot of youth outside registering people to vote. To get good people in office and it is a lot of high school kids, 10th, 11 and 12th grades. After school they take the light rail here and they go out and register people to vote, because they know that by voting we can make a change.
OSCAR LEON: Many young activists like Daniela Benitez, 19 years old, canvass the neighborhoods registering people to vote, disregarding of their political preferences. She thinks voting is a powerful weapon fo those who are affected negatively by the system
DANIELA BENITEZ: So I found a girl who was the same age as me, she was like “I don’t know if I am going to vote…” And you know when we go out we like to vote, share a little bit about us, about the organization and so on. And I shared I am undocumented and she was wondering if I could vote. And I said “no we can’t vote” but my job right now is to get those people that can vote to be that vote for us.
OSCAR LEON: The activist of Arizona Center of Empowerment refuse to give in to fear, and the slow kind of terror infused by Trump’s racist rhetoric and Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance.”
ALDO GONZALEZ: The first year people were like “I don’t even want to vote” and we convinced them to vote. The second year they were saying things like “ok I vote last time I’ll vote again” and the third year we got responses like “Oh I already sent in my ballot.” So we can tell them “we took on Arpaio and won”, “you took on Arpaio and won”, to was your vote. So I have seen an increasing in participation, polarization and people not being so easily fooled by propaganda or distractions like sports or celebrities.
OSCAR LEON: The Real News will continue to follow grassroots efforts to organize and make an impact in their communities. From Phoenix, Arizona, this is Oscar León.