By Jacob Faber
It was 11 a.m. on a Thursday in June. A dozen activists had gathered in South Phoenix to dial Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office to plead for immigration reform. Everyone was angry, sad, and most importantly, unsurprised. They had just lost a fight to protect thousands of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
For most in the room, it wasn’t their first time doing something like this, and they knew it certainly wouldn’t be their last.
The volunteers, made up of individuals with a personal connection to immigration reform, belong to an organization called Promise Arizona, which seeks to fight back against what they see as oppressive immigration laws in Arizona.
Members of Promise see themselves as a force for good in the Latino community and the broader community of Arizona residents. Through coordinated phone calls, setting up vigils in front of the Arizona State Capitol, holding educational classes for immigrants, registering new voters and more, Promise seeks to bring undocumented immigrants into civic life and out of the shadows.
An estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants resided in the state of Arizona in 2012, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Eleven percent of students enrolled in public schools in Arizona have one or more parents who are undocumented, according to the same study.
Promise was formed after the 2010 passing of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which, among other things, allows police officers to stop and arrest suspected undocumented immigrants based on “reasonable suspicion.” After the bill was passed, there was an outpouring of criticism and angst from the Latino community in Arizona, with the concern that it discriminated against them.
In response, after working for other immigration reform organizations, activist Petra Falcon decided to start her own. And from there, Promise Arizona was born.
“We knew the pathway to really being heard on addressing the need out of Arizona [for immigration reform] was building some political power voice in the immigrant community,” Falcon said. “It was the families that brought us to this point, it was the families that were being hurt and separated by SB 1070.”
Falcon said her previous experience in civic engagement led to her creation of the organization.
“It was a blessing,” Falcon said. “We had an infrastructure here in Arizona to work on comprehensive immigration reform and that’s where it just came together.”
Promise Arizona is distinct from other organizations because it aims to inform and educate those to whom it lends its services, be it in the form of language classes, voter registration and residence and citizenship applications — all of which aim to protect undocumented immigrants from being singled out and possibly deported.
In the past few years, Promise Arizona has put a lot of focus into providing resources for undocumented immigrants to properly apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the June 2012 executive order that gives temporary legal status to a number of undocumented immigrants that came into the country younger than 16 and before June 2007.
Promise also advocates for executive actions that created DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Lawful Americans) and would expand DACA. DAPA would grant temporary legal status to parents of people who have been legal citizens or residents for five years. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked both DAPA and the expansion of DACA from taking effect in response to a lawsuit by Texas and 25 other states.
Volunteer Dalia Luque, the daughter of parents who would be eligible for DAPA, said she has experienced fear for her family.
“Living in an immigrant family, it’s hard to reach out to people because you have this fear if they find out that your family or your parents are undocumented, how are they going to react? Are they going to perhaps call law enforcement? So it’s hard to build a community in spaces where a lot of people are living in fear, but Promise Arizona seems to bridge that gap,” Luque said.
Luque said Promise is able to bridge that gap through trust.
“They’re able to bring people together in a way where they create a trust and a mutual understanding and a belief that there can be something better,” Luque said. “There’s better possibilities and opportunities for them and that’s one of the great things they do is build a community with people in a space where it’s hard to build a community because there’s so much fear.”
Promise staff member Joanna Lucero — who handles logistics and oversees the English language classes, DACA and DAPA applications, and voter registration — said it’s the reflection of community that attracts her the most when bringing on volunteers.
“It’s not so much what you know than where your heart is,” Lucero said. “That’s what I want to check for. If someone wants to be in the movement and wants to grow themselves and the ones around them, then we need to nurture it.”
To Promise volunteer Cristian Payan, this is more than just a job. This is personal to him.
This kind of work has “always been something I’ve been passionate about since I was young because my parents came here illegally and worked their way up. My mom became a citizen and my dad is a resident, so he’s still working on his US citizenship,” Payan said.
“From growing up in a low income family and seeing the struggle and how hard it was and the prejudice that’s going on, as I got older it’s something that I wanted to get involved in and any time I could give my time to the community I would,” Payan said.
Volunteer Claudia Faudoa, an undocumented immigrant, has experienced fear and struggle.
Faudoa came to the United States 22 years ago from Chihuahua, Mexico, with a tourist visa and decided to stay to make a better life for herself than what she would have had in Chihuahua, she said. She worked her way up, got a well-paying job and built a family. All of a sudden, everything changed. Her employers discovered she was undocumented and she had to leave her job.
“It’s been very difficult since then because I didn’t have a way to support my family. It was only my husband who was working and it was very difficult,” Faudoa said.
Faudoa said day-to-day life is difficult, but she said this hasn’t diminished her love for the United States.
“I love this country. This is my home, I love it and respect it,” Faudoa said. “I’ve never been involved in any type of crime, I don’t have tickets, I drive like a grandma and my friends laugh at me but it’s only because I’m terrified. I pay my taxes, I do everything I can to be a good citizen and to show that I love this country and I want to stay here.”
For Faudoa, it’s her children that matter most.
“I have three boys that are American citizens. My kids’ dream is to go to Legoland in San Diego, but I can’t take them because there’s an immigration stop on the way and that means that’s going to be the last day I’m going to see them,” Faudoa said. “A lot of kids’ parents get sent away, they have to go back to Mexico and they can’t go back or they’re going to face jail for a long time, and in (Promise) I meet a lot of kids— wonderful, amazing kids — and they have to grow up, most of them, without a dad. It’s very sad. I don’t think that’s something a kid has to live with.”
And for this, Faudoa sees Promise as a gateway to relieving some of this hardship.
“Promise helps a lot of families,” Faudoa said. “I love all the work they do, they give a lot of time and energy to the community, and I want to make a change and do something that is good for my community and a lot of our families.”
It’s the sense of community that has made Promise so valuable in the eyes of its members and volunteers.
As Petra Falcon said, “It was families that brought us to this point.”
Promise Arizona plans to keep fighting for DAPA and expanded DACA and a complete overhaul of immigration policy in Arizona and the United States. They hold a vigil in front of the Arizona State Capitol every week in the evening to pray and show their commitment to the cause.