AZ immigrant rights activists hold forums on CU campuses

Immigrant rights activists across the country recall the day, April 23, 2010, with a cold clarity.

It was the day Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070 the strictest and farthest-reaching anti-illegal immigration legislation this country has seen in decades. While activists denounced the controversial measures they said would compromise the rights of immigrants and Latinos and promote racial profiling, outside of Arizona, activists began to fear that the law would set precedent for other states to follow: if it happened there, could it happen here?

And in Colorado, the answer was yes.

In August, conservative state Sens. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and a number of Republicans running for House seats announced their support for Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law and their aim to pass similar legislation in Colorado.

Alarmed by the trend, Colorado activists from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) and VOICE connected with two University of Arizona activists to organize community forums on University of Colorado campuses across the state.

“This is movement is a human rights movement,” said CU-Boulder student and VOICE volunteer Hanna Johnson in explaining why the forums were brought to the CU campus. “And its youth energy on college campuses that has always helped to make these movements happen.”

On Thursday, a forum was held at CU-Boulder. The two Arizonan activists – both former undocumented immigrants — told students their stories and experiences with the law in their personal lives.

“We are brothers and sister in the same struggle,” said panelist Andrea Gonzales to the diverse group of students who attended the forum.

Gonzales, who works with high school educators and students, offered insight into how the law has affected communities in Arizona. According to Gonzales, the passage of the law only served to “magnify the hysteria in an already hysterical society.”

SB 1070 not only targets undocumented immigrants but also legal U.S. residents who transport an undocumented immigrant “in furtherance” of their presence in the U.S., or those who “conceal, harbor or shield” an undocumented immigrant.

Gonzales argues that these provisions have further divided faculty and students into two defensive camps: those who sympathize with the undocumented students, and those who fear association with them.

“Since the law has been passed, you can see the fear dividing the community,” said Gonzales. “Now you have to choose a team.”

The other panelist, Aaron Almada, who received his M.A. in Mexican-American Migration studies, spoke about his experiences with student grievances over another controversial Arizona law that allows school districts to ban ethnic studies programs.

“Most American history textbooks don’t tell our history,” said Almada. “These [ethnic studies programs] are critical in developing interest and focus in school for many Latino students.”

The forum moderator and CIRC organizer Julie Gonzales reminded students Colorado also has a precedent for strict anti-illegal immigration legislation after the passage of a series of anti-illegal immigration laws in 2006.

“Don’t be fooled,” said Gonzales. “Immigrants have been used as scapegoats in this state before and it very well could happen again.”

Although an Arizona-style law has yet to be introduced in the Colorado Legislature, Gov. Bill Ritter is currently considering whether to commit to the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program, which would finger print all inmates and use that information to verify their legal status.

Proponents of Secure Communities believe the program would be a valuable tool in combating illegal immigration. However, critics fear the initiative would break down trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities as undocumented immigrants may not report crime for fear of deportation.

Julie Gonzales encouraged students to be vigilant and build solidarity with the immigrant rights movement in Arizona.

Pointing to an NPR story Wednesday uncovering the economic forces behind SB 1070, Gonzales reiterated the need for immigrant rights activists to be vigilant if they wish to prevent a similar law in Colorado.

“We need to fight together or we’re going to get steamrolled.”