One Year Since SB 1070 Signed Into Law and a Long Journey for Immigrants

Viridiana Hernández "came out" as undocumented after SB 1070

Viridiana Hernández “came out” as undocumented after SB 1070. (Photo: Valeria Fernandez)

Fi2W’s Valeria Fernandez produced a radio story for Latino USA about SB 1070 one year after the law was signed. Listen:

[audio:valerialatinousa042211.mp3]
Reporter’s Notebook

PHOENIX, AZ–When Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law last April 23, Arizona was hit by a tsunami of international media attention.

My phone was ringing of the hook from radio stations in Colombia, Spain, France, Argentina and even Uruguay—my home country—wanting to know what this law was all about.

In a nutshell, I would tell them that SB 1070 made it a state crime to be in Arizona without documents–and it was punishable with jail.

But SB 1070 is more complex than that. Even as a federal court injunction stopped five of its main provisions just before the law was to take effect—including the one I mentioned—other aspects of the law remain on the books.

Among them is one that keeps cities and localities from creating laws to ban police officers from asking someone about their immigration status.

But rather than looking at what law-enforcement has done with the few portions of SB 1070 that did go into effect on July 29 2010, for my Latino USA radio piece, I wanted to look at the impact of SB 1070 on the lives of those targeted by the law.

What’s changed for them in the past year?

When you talk to immigrants in the street, they’ll tell you that not much has changed. Some continue to live in fear that they could be stopped by the police and deported. Others are having a difficult time getting work due to another Arizona law that harshly sanctions employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

But when I met Viridiana Hernández I heard a different story. Viridiana, or “Viri” as her friends like to call her, is an undocumented immigrant and she wants it to be known.

She wants her story to be told and she shares it with everyone she encounters.  I followed her for a few weeks going to meetings with the Latino Union Club she founded in her college and to private homes in which she tries to engage Latino voters on the importance of participating in the political process.

She drives all over town without a driver’s license. From the college where she takes classes to become a teacher—she wants to teach immigrant families English—to community meetings were she is an organizer leading 60 immigrant families.

And she knows that every day she takes the chance of being pulled over by the police and asked for documents she can’t produce. She’s not less afraid than others, but she thinks it is worth it.

For Viridiana it wasn’t always like this. She used to keep a low profile. When SB 1070 was signed into law she broke into tears.

“They wanted to criminalize me,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I read the law.”

Her family discussed leaving the state.

But she says they quickly realized that if other states followed suit, pretty soon they were going to run into the same problem.

“We didn’t want to be running all our lives,” she told me in perfect English. “This is my home, my family has fought hard for everything we have.”

Viridiana is constantly busy. I don’t think she spends much time going to parties like other kids her age. She’s driven and focused on making small gains.

She says it is overwhelming to hope to change the politics in Arizona overnight, to change the climate that led to passage of more than 20 anti-illegal immigration bills in the last decade.

She believes change needs to start with manageable things, like mobilizing voters in a Phoenix district that is mostly Latino, but where Latinos rarely turn out to vote.

For her, this past year has been a long journey of changes, and the biggest one started with herself. Perhaps her biggest win: She’s no longer afraid.

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