Arizona Activist Won't Give Up On Immigration Reform

Oct 10, 2013

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson visits 27-year-old Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete, who was born in poverty in Phoenix to a single mother who was an undocumented immigrant.

Navarrete credits local church social workers for inspiring him to attend college and become an advocate for the poor.

“In the country that I live in, that I was born in, I do not want to see two different classes of individuals.”

He now helps run Promise Arizona, one of Arizona’s most visible immigrant advocacy groups. Arizona is now enforcing its controversial “show me your papers” law, which allows police to inquire about citizenship when enforcing other laws.

Navarette says that while the push for immigration reform has cooled in Congress, “the energy is still there” in the movement for immigration reform.

“There has never been a time where it’s been more difficult — we do have debt ceiling that has to be addressed, we do have the government shutdown that needs to be addressed,” Navarrete said. “But at the end of the day we are going to stand in solidarity with our families.”

Navarette mentions that in 2012, three out of four immigrants voted for President Obama “because he ran on a platform of comprehensive immigration reform.”

He says that number should serve as a signal to Republicans stop “dragging their feet” on the issue.

A House bill on comprehensive immigration reform is languishing in Congress because the nation’s lawmakers are addressing the debt ceiling and government shutdown.

Navarette says the delay has had real effects on his family, and other families from mixed-status households — families in which some members are undocumented while others have legal status.

Navarette’s aunt, who has lived in the state for more than 10 years, is facing a deportation hearing, even though her daughters and husband have legal status.

“We need to begin to ask ourselves tough questions,” Naverette said. “And one of these tough questions is, are we going to acknowledge these 11 million families who are already here and think realistically about that issue? Or are we going to have two different classes of individuals. And in the country that I grew up in, and in the country that I live in, that I was born in, I do not want to see two different classes of individuals.”


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It's HERE AND NOW. I'm Jeremy Hobson, broadcasting today from HERE AND NOW contributing station, KJZZ in Phoenix, Arizona.

And Arizona is a state with 1.9 million Hispanics as of 2010. That's a 46 percent increase from 2000. This is a border state. It is the state that produced SB 1070, perhaps the strictest anti-illegal immigration law in the country.

And just days ago, thousands of people rallied in downtown Phoenix to put pressure on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Some of the organizers of that rally gathered in a church near downtown Phoenix yesterday to take stock of their progress and brought next steps.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...that full thrust to be there at 9:30, and we didn't start the program until 10:00. So maybe, we need to be rah-rah-ing people, even if it's like - even if it's not the whole program of speakers. People were waiting for a long time before we started.

OTONIEL NAVARRETE: But - and I want to add the chant list.

HOBSON: One of the people here is 27-year-old Tony Navarrete. He works with a group called Promise Arizona.

NAVARRETE: So this amount - this is where a lot, you know, it's a little crazy in here because we just had our march and we had a couple of days off.

HOBSON: And I see on the board there flags, banner, bullhorns, these are all things you need for a march, obviously.

NAVARRETE: These are all things you need for a march, you know, the kind of last-minute things that we don't want to forget. You know, we had...

HOBSON: You would think that give the stalemate in Washington over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, that Tony would feel discouraged about the prospect for immigration reform. But he doesn't.

NAVARRETE: The time is now. And I think that folks are feeling the pressure not only from the faith community, business community, local communities, but the time is now. They need to act now. But we are going to fight. We're going to fight all this year, all next year, as long as it take in order to get - to make sure that we don't have 1,100 families being separated every single day.

HOBSON: It does seemed, though, like the momentum is starting to fade.

NAVARRETE: And I would disagree with you on that, Jeremy. And the reason I said that is because, you know, we're coming off of the heels of a very successful August recess, you know, where we really did dominate a lot of the conversations. We - there's over 200 events going on across the country. And just recently, you know, you had over 180 events happened nationwide. So the energy is still there. Whether the House doesn't want to take this issue seriously, we are noticing that the Democrats have, you know, have come up with two comprehensive immigration reform bills, you know, over the last month.

HOBSON: But you need the Republicans, not the Democrats.

NAVARRETE: Absolutely, you need the Republicans. And I think the fact that you have the business community, folks who tend to, you know, be with the Republicans or, you know, sometimes with the Democrats, everyone is really behind immigration reform.

HOBSON: So how do you get pass that last hurdle then, and convince Republicans in the House to pass either the Senate bill or a bill of their own because, of course, right now, with the government shutdown and the debt ceiling fight looming, it does seemed like you've never - it's never been a higher hurdle to climb.

NAVARRETE: No. You're absolutely right. It's not a - there's never been a time where it's been more difficult than right now, what we're facing. You know, we do have a debt ceiling that needs to be address. We do have a government shutdown that needs to be address. But at the end of the day, we are going to stand in solidarity with our families.

And one thing I do want to mention is that, you know, in 2012, the immigrant community came out to vote almost 3-1 for President Obama. And that's because he ran on a platform of comprehensive immigration reform. And I think that sent a real strong message to the Republican Party to act. And the longer they take to really drag their feet, the longer Americans are going to be affected.

HOBSON: Well, talk about that because I think a lot of times on the - in the cities along the East Coast, you don't see what that means. What does it mean to you? What do you see on the ground in Arizona about immigrant families being affected by not having a reform?

NAVARRETE: Well, you have - and I could use my family, for example. I am in a very mixed status household. I am in a very mixed status family. I have an aunt who has a Dreamer daughter and a citizen child and a citizen husband. She was recently detained and was released but is awaiting a deportation hearing. That's what that means to our families.

HOBSON: How long has she been in this country?

NAVARRETE: She has been in this country for over 10 years for sure, so...

HOBSON: And now, she's facing deportation?

NAVARRETE: Now, she's facing deportation charges. That's correct. So these are the issues. You know, these are the issues that we're facing every single day, you know, whether there are children. There's 90,000 Dreamer students in this state alone. So imagine if we have immigration reform. You know, we're asking, you know, the president comes to the state and says, we need more engineers. We need more teachers. We need more A, B and C. Well, guess what, we have a lot of those, but they don't have the permits to work.

HOBSON: What are you going to do if immigration reform does not pass in this Congress and it gets pushed back beyond the 2014 elections?

NAVARRETE: You know, for us, that's - that cannot happen. And like I said, the reason that cannot happen is because once again we have 11 million families here in this country who are undocumented. And the majority of Americans, poll after poll, say that immigration reform needs to happen. The majority of Americans say a pathway to citizenship needs to be included. And the majority of economists and polls know that immigration reform is going to reduce our deficit, you know, help support 2.4 million seniors who are retiring over the next 36 years, and really, you know, provide an influx of billions of dollars all across the country to the local economies.

HOBSON: You've been involved now in a number of rallies for immigration reform. Do you think they're making any difference?

NAVARRETE: Well, rallies are - it's - that's not, you know, what we do. It's part of an escalation plan. So of course, you know, our families are meeting with legislators, our families are writing letters, our families are talking to voters, our families are doing community forums. But when none of that is getting through the thick skulls of our elected officials, then we'll do, you know, a rally to really give energy to our base to really show that this effort is more than just voter registration, this effort is more than just, you know, calling our legislators.

HOBSON: I'm sure it will not surprise you to know that there is probably somebody listening to this right now - probably more than a few people listening - thinking, wow, I really hope that guy does not get what he's after, because I don't think that there should be a pathway to citizenship.

NAVARRETE: Well, I would say that, you know, the reason I do this - and whether someone who is listening to me disagrees - is because I care about my country, I care about the direction that it's going in, and I care about - you know, me, you know, I'm 27 years old, and I want to make sure that there is work available, that folks have homes, that folks have health care, because that's the country we are. We are the richest country in the world. And the fact that we can't get our issues together, the fact that we're in this tremendous deficit, we need to begin to ask ourselves tough questions.

And one of those tough questions, really, is, you know, are we going to acknowledge these 11 million families who are already here and think realistically about that issue, or are we going to have two different classes of individuals? And the country that I grew up in, and the country that I live in and that I was born in, you know, I do not want to see two different classes of individuals. I want to see one class, and that's the American class.

HOBSON: Well, Toni Navarrete with Promise Arizona, thank you so much for speaking with us.

NAVARRETE: Thank you, Jeremy, very much. Appreciate the time.

HOBSON: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.