Commentary: The fight for immigrant rights is no longer about making the best arguments; it’s about convincing neighbors that the issue is about families, children, human beings

By Rich Stolz, New America Media


TUCSON, Ariz. – Nov 2, 2006 – Fifteen residents, some of them part-time paid canvassers, gathered in the front room of a modest house, a temporary office, in central Tucson in mid-October. We were there for a training session on the basics of door-to-door campaigning and to learn more about four anti-immigrant Arizona propositions on the Nov. 7 ballot. Together we’re on the front line of the pro-immigrant movement, neighbors talking to neighbors about why it’s time for caring people to take a stand against hate and fear in American politics.

The canvassers and allied groups under the “Neighbors Working for Immigrant Dignity,” organized by the Campaign for Community Change, are calling on more than 20,000 registered Latino voters and knocking on the doors of 5,000 others who may or may not be Latino. We’re identifying their positions on these propositions and urging them to vote NO on them. Every knock represents the hopes of millions who have been craving a solution to the broken immigration system. Every knock is linked to the expectations of those who wish to come out of the shadows and fully live the dream they came to this country to achieve.

As new immigrant voters emerged from the grass-roots immigration movement, so did new tactics to prevent them from exercising their rights. Despite relentless efforts to keep out the immigrant vote, groups all over the nation are mobilizing registered voters to speak up for those who are unable to vote.

In Arizona, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Proposition 300 would deny access to child care services, adult basic education and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. It punishes children and makes it harder for parents to provide for them.

Proposition 100 would deny bail to undocumented immigrants. It labels immigrants as criminals, overrides the discretion of judges and would overcrowd jails.

Proposition 102 would deny punitive damages to undocumented immigrants. It would give the worst abusers of people a free pass to exploit the most vulnerable community members.

Proposition 103 would make English the official state language. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional more than a decade ago a similar proposition that voters passed in 1988.

These mean-spirited proposals won’t discourage migrants from crossing the border, but they will have the effect of driving people already living here deeper into the shadows.

In Central Orange County in California, 14,000 letters were mailed to Latino voters warning them of incarceration or deportation if they decided to vote. In an equally disgraceful manner, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is proposing a series of measures that would prevent countless immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, including increasing the application fee to more than $800.

These kinds of intimidation are only fueling pro-immigrant groups to work even harder and ensure representation at the polls with strategic get-out-the-vote efforts.

“Enough is enough,” many of us thought as we gathered at the training session in Tucson. The power rests in our hands. Expressing our discontent through the pro-immigrant marches was just the beginning.
In their desperation to look tough on immigration, and by pandering to score points with their voting base before elections, some national legislators intentionally ignored the real issues. However, this unwillingness to fix the nation’s immigration system has resulted in the people uniting in their desire to take action through civic participation.
Walking up and down Palo Verde Boulevard in Tucson for one hour on a Sunday afternoon, I personally talked with almost 30 registered voters, in an economically diverse but mostly white community. Half the voters on my walk list weren’t home. But half of them were. Six voters committed to vote NO on the anti-immigrant propositions. Two fundamentally disagreed with me. Ten more were undecided but hadn’t been following the election at all.

In the toxic anti-immigrant political environment of Arizona, change will begin when people talk to people, neighbors talk to neighbors, and people take a stand for people they care about. It’s no longer about making the best argument. It’s going to be about making our presence known, reaching out to ordinary voters and making this an issue about people, families, children and neighbors.


Rich Stolz is the Campaign for Community Change’s Arizona director and team leader of the Washington, D.C.-based CCC’s immigration program. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of the nation’s leading immigrant rights advocates.

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