'I can get my family back': immigrants driven out of Arizona return home

As the state's crackdown on illegal migrants is ruled unlawful, Guy Adams finds elation among the families who fled in fear

Friday 30 July 2010 00:00

When news of the last-minute injunction reached the crowd of protesters outside Arizona's state capitol in Phoenix, Patricia Rosas dropped to her knees next to a makeshift Catholic altar, crossed her heart, and said a quick prayer. Then she stood up, and gleefully announced to the world at large: "Now I can get my family back!"

On 4 July, Patricia had packed her daughter, Talia, son-in-law Raul, and three grandchildren into a battered pick-up truck outside their bungalow on the outskirts of Phoenix. After a tearful and very fond farewell, she waved goodbye as they set off on a seven-hour drive across the desert toward a new home and what they hoped would be a new life in California.

It was the latest chapter in a story which began 12 years ago, when Talia and Raul had slipped over the border into the US from Mexico, and had hit crisis point in April when Arizona's lawmakers passed of Senate Bill 1070, a controversial crackdown on immigration aimed at turfing out the estimated 460,000 foreigners living illegally in the State.

Under the proposed law, which required police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected of being in the US illegally, the couple's daily life in Phoenix would have been overshadowed by the knowledge that their next visit to the supermarket or journey into work might end up with them being stopped, thrown into jail, and deported.

Like thousands of other undocumented workers, Talia and Raul decided to give up on Arizona and bring up their kids in a State where their existence wouldn't be constantly governed by fear. "You cannot live like that," said Patricia. "Talia and Raul have been in America for their entire adult lives. Their children were born here, so are therefore US citizens under the constitution. This is the family's home. They love this country, and are proud of it. Everything they have ever worked for is here. But under 1070, they would have been afraid to so much as drive to the shops or walk down the street."

Then, on Wednesday morning came big news: a local judge had decreed that 1070 would no longer be allowed to come into force when it was supposed to, at midnight that night.

Instead, under a temporary injunction, Judge Susan Bolton declared that opponents who had sued to stop it passing into law were "likely to succeed" with the argument that four elements of the bill represent an illegal infringement of the civil liberties of genuine American citizens, and would interfere with the right of the Federal Government (rather than individual states) to enforce immigration.

Barring a successful appeal, which will in any case is likely to take months to be heard and enforced, the Bill, which was supposed to provide a blueprint from US states seeking to crack down on illegal immigrants, is now dead in the water.

The ruling is a victory for President Barack Obama, who hopes to enact immigration reform later this year, and whose Justice Department was among the plaintiffs in the case. It was also warmly greeted by civil rights campaigners who had complained that some of 1070's draconian measures – including one that required even legal migrants to carry their ID papers with them at all times – would inevitably lead to the police officers racially profiling the Hispanic community.

Patricia, for her part, is looking forward to being reunited with Talia, Raul, and their children, with whom she has only spoken to on the phone during the past month. She says the couple plan to stay in California until the legal battle over 1070 is exhausted. Once that happens, they will return to Phoenix, where they both had manual jobs in the restaurant trade.

"I called Talia and said there's good news: she could come home and we could be together as a family again," says Patricia, whose son, another illegal immigrant, has also now cancelled plans to leave Phoenix. "This ruling has taken away so much fear. It has shown that as a community we can fight back against intolerance and fear, and be strong. Really, I am delighted."

Undocumented workers aren't the only ones who will be returning to Arizona now that 1070 has been thrown into legal limbo. The development will also take the heat out of a consumer boycott which began in April, shortly after the law was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature.

No one knows exactly how many tourists cancelled planned visits, or simply failed to book holidays there during the controversy, which sparked a national conversation and in left-leaning circles turned Arizona into a pariah state. However the local Hotel and Lodging Association says that it knows of at least 40 business meetings or conferences that were called off, costing its members more than $12m.

"Other costs are harder to quantify, but our members have just had so many calls from people saying, 'We love your hotel and your destination, but the way things are, we just can't run the risk of scheduling an event here, because people might pull out and the press would be terrible,'" said a spokesman. "To give you an idea of the scale, though, the Sheraton in downtown Phoenix says the boycott has cost it $9m alone."

That's a big sum, even for an industry that employs roughly 200,000 people in the state's upscale hotels, golfing resorts and spas. "Our position has always been that a boycott would only hurt the people it was meant to help," added the spokesman.

"When people cancelled trips, it was the cleaners and reception staff, many from the Hispanic community, who stood to lose their jobs or have their shifts cut back."

Major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, which had banned employees from travelling to Arizona and put a freeze on new business dealings with the state, are likely to reconsider their position.

A day of nationwide protest against the Arizona law went ahead as planned yesterday, but Judge Bolton's ruling dissipated much of the anger, particularly in Phoenix, where tens of thousands of demonstrators had been expected and acts of civil disobedience had been planned.

Leading members of Arizona's Latino community meanwhile called for the boycott to be lifted. Raúl Grijalva, a Democratic Senator who was one of the leading voices in favour of the original sanctions, said it was time to reverse the policy.

"After this ruling, everybody has some responsibility to pause – and that includes me," he said.

The name of Patricia's son-in-law has been changed at her request to protect the couple's identity

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