Note: This is the first in a series of guest posts by Pablo Alvarado from Arizona and the front lines of the immigration debate. The Second Installment was posted on Oct. 29.
In Arizona, law enforcement has two new tools in their supposed fight against immigration; ski masks and teddy bears.
Anyone in Maricopa County can sign-up to be part of volunteer posses that sweep through Brown neighborhoods on a self-described hunt. Upon taking up the task, they’re handed those two items, a ski mask to hide their identity and a teddy bear to hand to any children whose mother or father they rip away.
What’s happening in the state raises questions beyond our immigration laws. In seeing what’s happening in Arizona, we’re forced to ask ourselves — what kind of country do we live in? And in times of crisis, how shall we be together as a people?
My organization has long been committed to improving human rights in the state, but it wasn’t until I saw the video above that I, as a father, committed our all to doing whatever it takes to establish justice there.
Unfortunately, this is not rare footage. When we got involved, we met young people like Catherine. She is an exceptional person who has led a children’s march of hundreds chanting “Obama, we want our parents back,” and she has even testified in Congress. As incredible as that is, it is no burden a nine-year-old should have to carry. She got involved because she witnessed her own parents being detained by the Sheriff on television when she got home from school one day. After a sleepless night of tears, she found our member organization, Puente, and became an instant leader in the effort to keep families together and stop the traumatizing deportations devastating our homes.
After watching these videos, one has to ask, how did we get here as a nation? Is this the America you want to live in? Have we become so scared as a people that our national security looks like Catherine’s tears or anonymous armed men sweeping up citizens and non-citizens alike? Or, like the rest of us, are you ready to sign up and say “Alto Arizona”? (Spanish lesson: “Alto” means stop). For more information, go to AltoArizona.com.
With the country at a crossroads, I believe there is another way forward. I see it every day in the neighborhood defense committees that migrant, Latino, and indigenous communities are creating to protect themselves from out-of-control Sheriffs. I see it in the incredible art that has been created in response to Arizona’s injustices. I believe we can be a people that upholds our dignity, honors our diversity, and lives as community. But as Arizona is one dangerous destination for us, it will take us all to forge that path together.
Pablo Alvarado was forced to flee his native El Salvador and came to the U.S. with other refugees looking for odd jobs at low pay on street corners in L.A. Now, he is the director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an organization dedicated to building a grassroots movement to achieve civil and human rights for low-wage migrant workers and all people.
Photo courtesy of HumanLeague002