Obama Brings Hope But Little Change to Immigrants in Arizona

By Valeria Fernández, FI2W contributor

PHOENIX, Arizona  — President Barack Obama arrives here today to speak at a commencement ceremony at Arizona State University in Tempe before an audience expected to number 71,000 people. Should the president have some time to look around during his visit he’ll find himself at ground zero of the immigration debate.

Sheriffs Supression

Despite shifts in federal immigration policies by the Obama administration, a crackdown on undocumented immigrants continues in Arizona. Photo/A.J. Alexander

A border state, Arizona has become the center of a crackdown on illegal immigration spearheaded by state elected officials and local law enforcement agencies geared towards the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

“First and foremost (the president) will see the great division that the issue (of immigration) has caused in Arizona and the hate that has been created because of it,” said Daniel Ortega, a civil litigation attorney and Hispanic activist. “He’ll see a population that is frustrated on both sides by the lack of the federal government’s ability to move forward.”

The recent federal announcement of a shift in the way worksite raids are conducted –to focus on employers rather than employees- by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) might have little impact in Arizona. Here the raids have been “contracted out” to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio through a 287 (g) agreement with the federal government, said Alfredo Gutiérrez, former state democratic senator and publisher of the online immigration news site La Frontera Times.

Arpaio has used his deputies trained in immigration laws to conduct raids on mostly Hispanic neighborhoods. He also has vigorously enforced a set of state laws to fight illegal immigration by performing worksite raids and incarcerating immigrants who hire human smugglers to bring them over the border from Mexico.

“These first 100 days have been exactly like the last 100 days of George W. Bush, there was no discernable difference,” said Gutiérrez. But others say the Obama administration has brought a change in the tone of the immigration debate to the state. “We’ve seen the Justice Department announce an investigation on the 287 (g) agreement with Arpaio, over allegations of racial profiling,” said Mary Rose Wilcox, Maricopa Country District 5 supervisor. Wilcox sees this as a sign that alleged civil rights abuses won’t be tolerated under the new administration.

On the other hand, the appointment of Janet Napolitano –former governor of Arizona- as the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was viewed with skepticism among some pro-immigrant activists who are critical of her legacy in the state. “She’s never thought about the people but to reach her political aspirations to be where she’s at right now,” said Linda Herrera, organizer from Unidos en Arizona a grassroots organization of immigrant communities.

Herrera said Napolitano allowed some of the toughest anti-immigrant policies to take root in the state. This includes bringing 287 (g) programs to Arizona and signing into law an employer sanctions bill that penalizes companies that knowingly hire undocumented labor. “These types of bills against immigrants have impacted Arizona’s economy negatively,” she said. “These experiences in Arizona should serve Napolitano to see that the raids and deportations are not the solution.”

Yet, the Obama administration’s repeated promises to begin tackling immigration reform this year issue have brought hope to some. “The only thing that was encouraging to me is that at least he (Obama) made a commitment to start talking about immigration reform,” said Luis Ibarra, CEO of Friendly House a non-profit organization that serves the immigrant community. Ibarra said it’s frustrating to see how people have to wait sometimes six to 10 years to get their immigration application process completed by the government because the focus has been on border enforcement. “Meanwhile, they can’t work. They can’t drive in Arizona,” he said. “What is a family supposed to do?”

Obama’s visit will be short. “If he cares to look, he should walk in Maricopa County jails and see immigrants locked up there for jaywalking, for having (their car’s) tail lights out, or for having the license plate in the car not visible,” said Gutiérrez. “What he’ll find is that the law as applied in Arizona is exactly as it was applied in South Africa during apartheid. That at any given time when the police chose they could arrest a black person.”

Supervisor Wilcox added that the president would also see the dilemma of families who have been in the country for many years “contributing to the economy and live in fear because they don’t have papers.”

President Obama won’t have to go far to see some of the undocumented students graduating from ASU.  They’ll be sitting across from him in the audience. Among them will be Dulce, 24, who asked that her last name be withheld due to her immigration status. She, like many of her classmates, expects to hear Obama mention the DREAM Act, which would allow for the legalization of undocumented students under certain conditions.

It will be a bittersweet graduation for the student who will receive a degree in electrical engineering without being able to join the Arizona workforce because she doesn’t have proper documentation. “If he looked, the president would see how many bright people are going  just to waste. He’ll be disappointed to see lawyers, architects and engineers all going to waste. If they don’t get their citizenship, you’re throwing it all away.”

Valeria Fernández is a freelance journalist in Phoenix.


  1. Vicente Duque

    I agree 100% with your fight for Kindness, Racial Harmony and the advancement of Minorities.

    Hate Crime Legislation – Unsound, Absurd and Illogical Court decisions should be reviewed and appealed. Everywhere in the World -The Right to live and stay alive.

    I have observed that Racists and furious antiObamists are enemies of the “Hate Crime” Concept and of all Federal Powers.

    They dislike any Federal Intervention and defend “State Rights” in the extreme, so that they can commit whatever action and manipulate only the Local Authorities.

    They say that any crime involves “Hate”, and they do not see the danger for Society of the True Real Hate Crimes.

    “Hate Crime” is a juridical concept not only for the USA but for all the World. This is necessary in all and every country on planet Earth, and there are already stricter legislations and constitutions in advanced or backward countries against Hate Crimes.

    The First Duty of any Republic is to guarantee the right to live, the rigth to stay alive, of the Citizens, Residents, Visitors, or any Human Being inside their borders, with no excuses or exceptions.

    Otherwise we would return to Sparta in Ancient Greece and the right to kill the Helots, for fun, sport and entertainment.

    Human Life is an asset, even Sparta recognized that it needed Workers and Warriors and in extreme times of crisis had to employ the Helots as Mercenaries. Eventually the System of Oppression brought the downfall of Sparta

    By the way, the military situation is grave and delicate :


    Vicente Duque

  2. Carlos

    Dulce can go back to her country of birth and help it become better… Ooooops, I forgot, she’s here for the money, and to take the jobs that Americans and legal residents have played fair and abided by the law to enjoy… Maybe in the zapatista world of illegal aliens all you have to do to get something is cajole or threaten your way to it, but America is a land where the rule of law is paramount. Go back and apply for legal entry, but remember, no aiding and abetting of illegal aliens or you may get booted out with them.

  3. John

    Carlos, Dude your name is Carlos, you must be Latin dissent. Whats wrong with you man, go check your forfathers entry in this country, see if they came here by jumping the fence. Be thankful for what you have before you go run your mouth like an idiot. I Guarantee that you have some one in your family now or the past who came here Unchecked.

  4. Bill, RC


    To say that people are here because they are ‘in it for the money’ is pretty preposterous. Don’t forget that the people that have lived here the last 1/2, 3/4 or whatever of their lives are completely assimilated and share the same culture and ideals. The reason people don’t want to leave is because they do not fit in elsewhere as their home country is – here. Granted, with an engineering, MD or any other degree people have opportunities elsewhere and it is a fact that these high skill immigrants know this and use it for their advantage. Although it hurts to leave for another developed country such as Canada, Australia or a number of European nations, it is better than “living in the shadows” here. And the sad fact is that the biggest loser from this reverse migration is actually the USA in the form of progress, advancement and of course the all mighty tax dollar.

    As far as taking the jobs of Americans go, if you think these people are so substandard and what not, what do you have to lose? Surely it most not be your job right, because the non natives are much less productive, educated and so on…

  5. DAD77

    “If the American people don’t feel like you can secure the borders,” President Obama said at his press conference last week, “then it’s hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, ‘Well, you’re just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.’ ” 11 May 2009

  6. DAD77

    The sustainable world population is estimated between 1.5 to 2 billion people. That was the level of world population as recently as the first decade of the 20th century, before the pressure of numbers had generated the environmental damage now visible. If the present trends continue our current world population of six billion is projected to nearly double in the 21st century, with most of the growth in the developing countries. Developed countries (including US) have reduced birthrates close to replacement rates. However, the birthrates for in developing countries are much higher and they all want to migrate to the US.

    If the USA seems too crowded and its roads too congested now, imagine future generations: The nation’s population could more than triple to 1 billion as early as 2100. The US is already depleting top soil and fresh water faster than it can be replaced.

    The world (and the US) cannot continue to grow in population. It is unsustainable. Eventually, there will be conflicts over food, water, and other resources. It is already happening in some areas (Sudan, Dufar, and Somolia).

    Unlimited birthrates and mass immigration cannot continue without dire consequences in the near future. War, famine, plagues, genocide, or birth control. Not very many good choices there.

  7. Hannah


    Please educate yourselves as to who the dream act is for. The dream act is for children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here at a younge age and have since grown up here.

    I was forced to come here at the age of 5. I am now 25. I hate my life here for many reasons, one being that I am undocumented. Furthermore, I have nothing to go back to. Would you get up and move to a country you know nothing about? Would you move to a country where you cannot read or write the language??

    My youth has been spent worrying about what will happen to me. I have been punished my restrictions for something I had no control over.

    Who are you to say that I or anyone in my situation should go back to their country??

    Go read the book An American Holocoust, because if that is the case, YOU my friend are the first one who needs to go back.

    It is ignorant people like YOU who make MY life hell.

  8. minna


    As much as I support a form of immigration reform and agree with you that passing the DREAM act would be beneficial to the country, I think you’re blaming the wrong people. At the end of the day you are in your situation because of your parents.

    If they had not forced you to come to this country when you are 5, you would not be in this situation, so if you want to point a finger you should point it at them first.

    At the end of the day America is for Americans, and if Americans choose to forget their melting pot origins, one that in many ways has made this country great, then its totally within the Americans rights to voice their opposition to any form of adjustment for illegals who have been living here for some time, children or not.

  9. Pingback: Arizona Bill Would Criminalize the Presence of Undocumented Immigrants in the State « Feet In 2 Worlds, Immigration News

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