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Mixed-Status Families Face Hard Choice

 IPS 18 May 2019

(Originally published: 03/2010) Norma Tolsa-Garcia is a U.S. citizen but she fears new proposed laws in Arizona might force her and her family to move away from the state she grew up in because her husband is an undocumented immigrant. A controversial bill moving fast through the state legislature would make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to trespass on state land. But it also could result in fines and criminal charges against family members and employers that harbour or transport undocumented immigrants  - Valeria Fernández

IPS

PHOENIX, Arizona, USA - Norma Tolsa-Garcia is a U.S. citizen but she fears new proposed laws in Arizona might force her and her family to move away from the state she grew up in because her husband is an undocumented immigrant.

 

A controversial bill moving fast through the state legislature would make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to trespass on state land. But it also could result in fines and criminal charges against family members and employers that harbour or transport undocumented immigrants.

 

While pro-immigrant groups planned to rally, at the time of going to press, in Washington D.C. on 21 March to push the Barack Obama administration to fulfill promises for immigration reform, the absence of federal action continues to leave the door open for tougher policies in Arizona, home to an estimated 300,000 undocumented migrants.

 

Two weeks ago, advocates from the PUENTE movement launched a caravan that has been crisscrossing the country to bring awareness about what they call a human rights crisis in the state. Several pro-immigrant rights groups are also applying political pressure to dissuade the governor from signing the new anti-immigrant measure in to law.

 

But the mere existence of the proposal is already provoking fear for families like Tolsa-Garcia's.

 

"When I first heard about that law, I literally cried that day," said the U.S. citizen who is married to an immigrant from Guatemala. "How do you choose who you marry?"

 

The couple has been married for seven years and has three children, ages one, four and six. Their combined income pays the mortgage on their home. Tolsa-Garcia was surprised to discover that there was little she could do to help her husband get a legal visa.

 

U.S. law required him to leave and apply for a pardon for having entered the country illegally. If he doesn't get it, he would have to wait 10 years before re-entering the U.S.

 

Because of the new proposed legislation, Tolsa-Garcia is afraid that her husband will be in constant danger of being detained by the police every time he goes to work or whenever they go together to the store.

 

"What if they stop us when we are going to church?" she said.

 

Her situation is shared by hundreds of thousands of mixed-status families in Arizona who have already been under pressure from stricter laws passed by the state in an attempt to regulate immigration issues.

 

Behind the scenes, conservative Republicans have toned down the broader aspects of the legislation that could impact family members to focus on those who smuggle immigrants.

 

But Carlos Galindo, a civil rights activist and founder of Moving Arizona Forward, an organisation to encourage civic participation, said the way this bill could be implemented is the problem.

 

In the past, local sheriffs, including Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio, and prosecutors like Andrew Thomas have used laws aimed at human smugglers to convict immigrants who hire their services.

 

"My concern is that this law will lend itself to incorrect prosecution of individuals," said Galindo, who also hosts a morning talk show on Radio KASA. "This law also allows government employees to ask for someone's immigration status. We are talking about individuals who never got the legal training on how to determine the status of anybody."

 

The issue of illegal immigration is a political hot potato in Arizona. Historically, Republicans have held the majority in the legislature, allowing for passage of most anti-immigrant measures. In the midst of an election year, many Republicans are expected to support this legislation.

 

But pro-immigrant rights activists are trying to persuade Republican Governor Jan Brewer that the move to sign the bill into law might be costly at election time.

 

On Monday 15 March, dozens of protesters with Moving Arizona Forward stood outside the state capitol holding signs with the message: "I vote, you veto."

 

"She'll be sadly remembered by children for signing a law against people that work. Sooner or later history would tell who did the right thing," said Victor Hugo Preciado, one of the protesters.

 

The action was joined by national figure Rev. Miguel Rivera, chair of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), who travelled to Arizona from Washington, and the co-chairs of the Arizona Latino Caucus.

 

"While we are preparing to rally in Washington D.C., I believe it's important to send a message from areas like Arizona that are in the immediate need of comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

 

The reverend is known across the country for leading a controversial national campaign against participation of undocumented immigrants in the census as a way to protest the government inaction to pass some form of legalisation.

 

Local politicians in Arizona like Rep. Ben Miranda, co-chair of the Latino Caucus, said that changes will only happen if Latinos turn out at the polls. As the state finds itself in the middle of a historic budget deficit, anti-immigrant bills can only make matters worse, he said.

 

"The economic recovery of this country will rest with the immigrant population," said Miranda.

 

But supporters of the legislation sponsored by Republican Senator Russell Pearce believe it would help the state lower the cost of providing healthcare and education to the children of undocumented immigrants.

 

Steve Montenegro, a Republican legislator, said it will untie the hands of local law enforcement by preventing any restrictions on the implementation of immigration laws.

 

"We have to remember one thing: that there's millions of people, kids and families outside of the U.S. waiting to come legally, they've been waiting for 10 to 12 years. So we have to protect their right as well," he said.

 

About the situation of mixed-status families like Tolsa-Garcia's, he responded: "I'm not going to tell a parent how to raise its child, that's going to be a decision within the family."

 

But Tolsa-Garcia faces a very difficult choice: stay and take the gamble of going through the emotional and economic toll of being separated, or take her family to a country that she doesn't know.

 

"It's basically restricting a U.S. citizen, saying you're not allowed to marry who you want," she said. "They need to rethink this. Those people who come here to work hard, they are the ones building houses, and companies, bringing food to the markets."

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