In Arizona pro-immigrant and voter registration activists are being intimidated, both by the state and right-wing white-supremacy groups
NARRATOR: In Arizona, pro-immigrant and voting registration activists are being intimidated by both the state and right-wing white supremacy groups.
TOMAS ROBLES JR, CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LUCHA: They chase us around and say we don’t belong here, they called us illegals, they said we are terrorists and traitors. We have gotten anonymous letters, from people who are too cowardly to write their names down, but will say that we are evil, that we are terrorists. We even had people call our phones, our private lines and say the same things.
NARRATOR: Tomas Robles is a co-executive director for Lucha, an acronym for Living United for Change in Arizona, an NGO focused on constructing community political power.
TOMAS ROBLES JR: So this has never happened under president Obama ‘s watch, it has all happened under 45’s administration.
You could talk to the Obama Administration, you could plead to them. And you could create policies that could help some immigrants. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is one of them.
With Trump you are seeing the opposite, you are seeing the caging of kids, 7 children have died in captivity, now he is ruining schools and English classes, and then he will turn around and say immigrants won’t learn English.
NARRATOR: In the context of the Trump administration’s “war on immigrants,” the pressure has grown to new heights in many ways, and not only coming from the state of Arizona. This is Sebastian del Portilla, a young Community Organizer from Phoenix, Arizona.
Sebastian del Portilla
Community Organizer LUCHA
SEBASTIAN DEL PORTILLA: What we do every day, acting against our government and in the best interest of our community. It is dangerous, you are putting yourself out there. For authorities to come and beat you. Right? To be arrested to be harassed by white extremist groups.
That type of people, right extremist groups have come by our offices before. With guns, trying to intimidate us.
NARRATOR: Arizona’s sanctuary churches and Latino rights NGOs, volunteers, guests, and staff, have been verbally assaulted by right wing activists, who many times were trespassing on private property armed with guns.
STEPHANIE MALDONADO, ORGANIZING DIRECTOR, LUCHA: I’ll say that under the Trump administration what we have seen is an increase in the ability to be bold. On the other side, we have seen lots of hate, we have seen individuals coming out, directly being racist towards communities.
NARRATOR: Stephanie Maldonado is the Organizing Director of LUCHA. Her mother self-deported in 2012 under the shade of the infamous SB1070 law and the crude enforcement of similar laws that followed.
Stephanie then felt the need to join with like-minded individuals and defend the local Latino Community, many of whom like her had lost so much, due to this now ramped-up “war on immigrants.”
STEPHANIE MALDONADO: I think that when Obama was president, I mean, that was happening, but it wasn’t as acceptable to say “go back to your own country.”
What changed more so now is that individuals feels a sense of privilege, to be able to be racist towards communities of color.
NARRATOR: These are serious threats, so much that the Southern Law Poverty Center and a large group of local churches, many of them sanctuaries, filed a federal lawsuit against the AZ Patriot Movement and AZ Patriots, 2 white supremacist groups, which have been classified by the center as hate groups.
According to the lawsuit, these anti-immigrant organizations have trespassed into churches and sanctuary churches, posing as media or volunteers, to confront, harass and disturb immigrants, church staff and volunteers.
The lawsuit names several members of each group as responsible for defamation, trespassing, invasion of privacy, discriminatory interference with property, and conspiracy to violate their civil rights. One of the defendants, Antonio Foreman, even attended the infamous “Unite the Right” Rally in Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist, and many more were injured.
TOMAS ROBLES JR: We see mass shooting everywhere. It is always a white man. It is almost always a white man. And we see these groups like the AZ Patriot Movement, they are all white Americans who terrorize young brown Americans. And have no kind of shame in doing so. These are terrorist groups.
You could see another thing that happened in Oregon a couple years ago, where they held a government building hostage with guns, and they got no jail time. Whereas you had seen any black or brown people doing that, they would have been shot and killed.
NARRATOR: The U.S. Government has also increased its efforts against activists, from the leaked Homeland Security Secret Database, tracking not only pro immigrant activists, but also lawyers and journalists.
To the charges against Dr. Scott Warren, seeking 20 years of prison, for allegedly feeding and giving water to groups of immigrants crossing the deadly desert. In Warren’s trial, the jury was not able to reach a verdict, according to The Tucson Sentinel, it was declared a “hung jury” and prosecution reserves the right to star over with a new trial.
The pressure has increased across the board nationwide. In Texas, Teresa Todd, a county attorney for Jeff Davis County, who saved the life of 3 siblings in extreme distress, was charged with harbouring illegal aliens, and like Dr. Warren, she also faces 20 years in prison.
Both cases respond to a Trump administration directive to focus on the “harboring status,” which is applied broadly, even in extreme cases, such as this one, where Todd was allegedly following one of the most basic human impulses: to save the life of 3 children.
SEBASTIAN DEL PORTILLA: What has happened with Scott Warren, him facing 20 years, and the fact that there is, you know, militia groups out there in the same area doing what knows what to immigrants in the desert, sends a clear message that our government clearly does not prioritize people of color and immigrants in our communities.
Our current political environment and the history of politics here in Arizona, has been one full of white supremacy and with inequity. So for folks that are mixed status, living here undocumented, there is a huge fear in our community.
NARRATOR: Stay tuned with The Real News for more on the issue.