Immigrant Mothers In Arizona: Some Vow to Stay Despite New Law, Others Consider Moving

Phoenix, AZ— Juana Cortes won’t leave Arizona. Even though a new state law makes heran undocumented immigranta criminal. She knows that leaving is exactly what the proponents of the law want her to do.

“Fear paralyzes you and we can’t be paralyzed right now,” said Cortes, 33. “It’s no good to leave, wherever we go we are going to be carrying these problems anyways.”

Despite media reports of an immigrant exodus from Arizona since the law’s passage, many undocumented immigrants like Cortes have decided to stay.

“That’s another part of the story. Yes, some people are leaving but others are staying,” said Ceci Saenz, a member of the Repeal Coalition, a group that advocates for the rejection of all anti-immigrant laws in the state. “They know that being stopped [by the police] is not the end of it, they have a sense of empowerment and willingness to fight.”

Over the past three years Arizona has seen an increase in measures and laws aimed at getting immigrants to “self-deport.” State Senator Russell Pearce, (R-Mesa) author of SB 1070 and several other bills, says his measures have been successful in pushing immigrants out of the state.

But the extent to which these laws have truly “worked” is disputed.

Two recent reports show conflicting results on how the demographics of the state’s immigrant population has shifted. A 2009 Center for Immigration Studies report indicated that the undocumented immigrant population in Arizona dropped by 180,000 in 2 years. But another analysis by the Pew Hispanic  Center showed the population hadn’t dropped, only stabilized. Though these research bodies both claim to be non-partisan, they have different slants: CIS favors less immigration to the U.S., while the Pew Hispanic Center’s mission is to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on the nation.

Undocumented migrants remain in Arizona simply because this is the place where they have established their lives, where they raised their kids, and where they have a network of friends, said activist Salvador Reza, from the PUENTE movement.

Cortes, for one, says she’s not too worried about SB 1070.  In the five years she has lived in Arizona she has already witnessed many immigration sweeps, and the rise of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who has targeted heavily Latino neighborhoods around Phoenix.

But Lydia, her 15 year old daughter, has been affected. At least 10 of her classmates have left school because their families moved away, and she says that’s been hard for her.

But moving to another state may not be the answer. Lawmakers in at least nine other states have announced their intention to introduce legislation similar to SB 1070.

The controversial law has turned Arizona into the epicenter of the country’s heated immigration debate, and it’s also ignited the pro-immigrant movement. A daily vigil has been taking place at the Arizona State Capitol and there have been a number of multi-ethnic marches and events to raise awareness of the plight of immigrants. The PUENTE movement is organizing a march and national day of action on May 29th to advocate for federal involvement to prevent SB 1070 from being enforced.

“I think SB 1070 has been the last drop to a lot of folks,” said Saenz. “And they are more empowered.”

The Repeal Coalition recently produced this video featuring undocumented immigrants who marched to protest the new law.

Saenz and other members of the coalition have been working with a group of 40 immigrants in a Phoenix neighborhood over the past year. After these immigrants learned about their rights and got organized, many of them decided to stay. They wouldn’t leave without a struggle, Saenz said.  “They felt unity in the sense that all the fears went away.”  Several of them ended up joining the movement and marching on the streets of their neighborhood.

“We have rights, we pay taxes like anyone else,” said Delia Dominguez, 43, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. Dominguez marched on May 10th in an event coordinated by PUENTE  in honor of Mother’s day. She has been paying taxes for the last 14 years in hopes that she will qualify for some form of legal status. “I’m willing to fight till the very end,” she said.

But not everyone is prepared to endure the new law.

The prospect of a broken home is nerve-wracking for some mothers like Korina Palomares, 32. She can’t bare the thought of her four daughters seeing her in handcuffs, and that’s why she is seriously considering leaving the state.

“It is not a law, it’s a label,” she said. “The five minutes I leave my home to take my daughters to the school I’m being labeled as a criminal, just for simply being.”

AboutValeria Fernández
Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist from Uruguay with more than a 14 years experience as a bilingual documentary producer and reporter on Arizona’s immigrant community and the US-Mexico borderlands. She co-directed and produced "Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies that aired in Al Jazeera America. Her work as reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico broadcast in PBS, San Diego and won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting in 2016. She freelances for a number of print, digital and broadcast media outlets, including Feet in 2 Worlds, CNN Español, Radio Bilingue, PRI's Global Nation, Al Jazeera, and Discovery Spanish.