Posted on December 15, 2010

Undocumented Immigrants Prepare to Leave Arizona

Latin American Times Herald (Caracas), December 10, 2010

Faced with the unlikelihood that the federal government will pass an immigration-reform law any time soon, coupled with the toughening of Arizona’s state laws against illegal immigration, many undocumented aliens here are getting ready to go back to their own countries.

“The situation is getting more and more difficult, not only because it’s very hard to find work, but because you can no longer live in peace–you’re always afraid of being arrested by the cops,” Juan Martinez Ramos, an undocumented immigrant from the western Mexican state of Michoacan, told EFE.

The Martinez family is selling all the furniture in their two-room apartment in Phoenix in hopes of raising a little more cash.

“The American dream is over for us,” the father of three children, all born in the U.S., said.

The family hopes to leave the state by Dec. 21, in time to get back to Mexico for the Christmas celebrations.

Martinez, 42, who worked in construction for more than seven years, has been out of a job for a year, and during that time has survived doing “odd jobs” in private homes, such as repairing walls and roofs and installing windows.

“It’s not just the lack of work–now with the SB1070 law they want to make those of us without papers feel like criminals,” Martinez, who came to the United States 10 years ago crossing the Arizona desert on foot, said.

SB1070, which took effect in July, is the first in the United States to criminalize the presence of undocumented immigrants.

Though a federal judge temporarily blocked the most controversial provisions of the law including an article requiring local law enforcement to question the immigration status of people suspected of being undocumented, activists say that the impact has been tremendous among Arizona’s immigrant community.

“SB1070 has had a huge impact not only on the state’s economy, but also a psychological and moral impact among immigrant families,” Magdalena Schwartz, a pastor and activist in Phoenix, told Efe.

She said that many families are getting ready to leave the state this month or next.

“Some families are going to different states, while others are going back to Mexico,” the activist, who works with immigrant families in Arizona, said.

She added that some families have told her they are only waiting to file their final tax return in order to leave at the beginning of next year.

Schwartz said that SB1070 has had a powerful psychological impact, since immigrant families are scared of the police and afraid to report abuses.

“After the general elections were won by conservative Republicans who completely oppose immigration reform, especially here in Arizona, the hopes of many families died,” the pastor, an immigrant from Chile, said.

The lack of jobs, the economic crisis and, above all, the constant tension in which 34-year-old Rosario Garcia is living led her to take the decision to return to Mexico with her two children in the last week of December.

Garcia, a native of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, told Efe that despite all her attempts she has not been able to find work in Tucson, a city where she has lived for 12 years.

For many years Garcia worked as a chambermaid in a number of luxury hotels, but after the state law sanctioning employers went into effect in 2008, it got harder and harder to find work, since every time potential employers compared her information with the E-verify database, they saw she had no permit to work in the United States.

“Now with SB1070 they’re telling us that they don’t want immigrants here in Arizona, even though we’re the ones who do the most work,” she said. EFE