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Hate in Arizona: Two Mothers Mourn Their Murdered Children


PHOENIX — Two Latina mothers are the main witnesses in parallel murder trials that shed light on the political climate of a state that has become a hotbed of extremism, according to human rights organizations.

The women’s stories have slipped under the radar of Arizona’s conservative political leaders, who have fueled the illegal immigration debate by shifting the spotlight to undocumented immigrants and border violence and away from deadly vigilantism.

Paula Valera, Mother of Juan Varela

Paula Varela testified recently about the day she watched her son, Juan Varela, fall to the ground after he was fatally shot in the head a few feet outside his home in South Phoenix on May 6, 2010.

She took the stand as a key witness in the murder trial of the man accused of gunning him down, their next-door neighbor, Gary Kelley.

According to Kelley’s attorney, Kelley approached Juan Varela to talk about Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070, and shot Varela in self-defense.

But Juan Varela’s brother, Anthony, testified that Kelley, who was drunk at the time, was armed and looking for more than neighborly conversation.

Kelley reportedly yelled racial slurs at his neighbor and said, “You f—–g Mexican, go back to Mexico!”

Varela, 44, and his family are Mexican Americans who have lived in Arizona for several generations.

In the aftermath of the passage of SB 1070— one of the toughest anti-immigration laws in the nation —the Varela family’s attempt to highlight the murder as a hate crime has gone largely unnoticed. And so has the trial of his accused killer.

Gina Gonzalez, Mother of Brisenia Flores

Varela’s mother is not alone in her sorrow. Another mother recently took the stand in a different trial in Tucson for a shooting that happened almost a year before Varela’s. This time the victims were a 9-year-old girl and her father.

On May 30, 2009, Gina Gonzalez pretended to be dead after intruders shot her and fatally shot her husband Raul Flores inside their home in Arivaca, Ariz., a town about 13 miles from the Mexican border.

She listened as her 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, pleaded for her life. Then the shooter reloaded the gun and killed the little girl.

The alleged ringleader of the crime is 42-year-old Shawna Forde, a leader of Minuteman American Defense (MAD), an armed watch group whose goal is to detain and report undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the border. Prosecutors argue that Forde tried to finance her anti-immigrant activities with robberies like the one that led to the fatal shootings in 2009. She is facing the death penalty.

Jury deliberations have started in the Varela murder case, and are expected to begin this week in the Flores shootings.

Where Were the Media?

Carlos Galindo, a local pro-immigration activist and radio talk-show host, calls the case of Brisenia Flores a “red flag.” If Arizona politicians and communities had rallied against the killing of the 9-year-old and her father, he says, Juan Varela might never have been slain.

Galindo believes Varela’s murder would have created an uproar in Arizona but for the fact that Phoenix police made early statements pushing the case under the rug, denying that it was racially motivated or related to SB 1070.

The case was later labeled a hate crime under former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, after pressure from the family with the help of ethnic media and community members like Galindo.

Galindo speaks about the murder often on his bilingual radio show on Radio KASA in Phoenix. “If you allow rhetoric to continue to escalate against a certain ethnicity, it’s going to become a situation where it’s okay to violate, to abuse and to kill,” he says.

Neither case has received as much media coverage as the death of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz on March 27, 2010, which was used by SB 1070’s sponsor, Republican Senator Russell Pearce, to rally votes for the bill’s passage.

Conservative bloggers and talk show hosts immediately tried to tie Krentz’s unresolved murder to undocumented immigrants, after authorities found footprints leading from his property to the Mexican border.

Steve Rendall, senior analyst for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a New York-based organization that monitors media bias, said news outlets jumped too quickly on the Krentz slaying when there was little information. He said the case received more coverage than the Flores and Varela murders because mainstream reporters and editors “fear being seen as liberal or left-leaning.”

While conservative politicians used the rancher’s death to push an anti-immigration law, the murder of the 9-year-old and her father has been dismissed by many as the act of a mentally disturbed individual.

“The political right has run away from the Shawna Forde case as fast as its feet can carry it, essentially suggesting that this murder has nothing to do with anything beyond a crazy woman,” says Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “There’s a lot going on out there, and it’s not the headless bodies that (Arizona Governor) Jan Brewer likes to talk about.”

Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, arguing that violence from Mexico was crossing the border and that numerous headless bodies had been found in the Arizona desert—a claim has never been proven.

But Potok said popular support for anti-immigration measures and political gains for lawmakers who espouse them have opened a Pandora’s box demonizing Latinos that will be difficult to close.

“I think that Arizona’s response to the vigilante movement was fundamentally to engage in the same kind of activity itself. Rather than trying to deal with the problem of immigration rationally, the politicians in Arizona ultimately endorse that kind of attack,” he says.

Jesus Romo, a civil rights attorney in Tucson, agrees. He argued one of the successful civil lawsuits against Douglas vigilante rancher Roger Barnett for threatening two Mexican-American hunters and three young girls with a rifle in 2004. The Ninth Circuit last week upheld an Arizona jury’s decision on another lawsuit against the same rancher brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). He was fined more than $80,000 for assaulting a group of migrants on public land. The federal court found that he was not entitled to claim self-defense because none of the people he assaulted had threatened or attacked him.

“There’s total impunity when it comes to assaults against minorities, especially against Mexicans,” says Romo, who blames the state for turning a blind eye to the activities of border vigilante groups. “Apart from that, they are treated as heroes for what they do, so they feel in the right of attacking people without anything happening to them.”

Bill Strauss, the state director of the Anti-Defamation League, doesn’t believe the media “intentionally de-emphasizes crimes against minority individuals.”

But he is concerned that the current tone of the immigration debate in Arizona has forced hate crime victims into the shadows.

“We are not getting complaints about hate crimes against Latinos in this community as I imagine take place,” Strauss says.

One Hate Crime Trial or Two?

The shootings of Brisenia and her father have never been labeled hate crimes. But for human rights groups that have followed the case closely, the murders clearly meet that definition.

Prosecutors are arguing that Forde and her two accomplices, Jason Eugene Bush and Albert Gaxiola, were motivated by financial gain. Forde is accused of targeting for robbery the little girl’s father, whom she suspected of being a drug dealer, and using the proceeds to fund her border watch group.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League had been monitoring Forde and her organization since 2007 with growing concerns.

“She came onto our radar because she was increasingly taking more extreme action,” says Marilyn Mayo, director of right-wing research at the Anti-Defamation League. Mayo says Forde formed the more extreme MAD because she wasn’t satisfied with what other Minutemen groups were doing.

Before the shooting, there were claims that Forde’s group was going directly after drug cartels. In 2008, Forde claimed that Hispanic intruders raped her in her home— the police dropped the investigation for insufficient evidence— and she suggested the attack could have been retaliation for her undercover investigations of drug dealers in Washington, according to the ADL.

The ADL also noted that some of Forde’s ardent supporters have ties to white-supremacist groups, including Laine Lawless, who recently created the website www.justiceforshawnaforde.com. Lawless has been linked to white-supremacist organizations like the National Socialist Movement and National Vanguard.

Attorney Jesus Romo believes Forde’s prosecution can’t be separated from her role in MAD and her stance on illegal immigration.

“They are not tying this to what she dedicated herself to: the hunt of Mexicans, and this was yet another chapter within that hunt that ended in death,” he says.


ALL OF THEM TOGETHER

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Judge Blocks Arizona’s Law on Profiling


Click here to read Judge Susan Bolton’s injunction.

PHOENIX — U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton today blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s new immigration law, which goes into effect tomorrow. The judge blocked the provisions that required officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws; that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times; and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places. These provisions will be put on hold until they are resolved in court.

In her ruling, Judge Bolton ruled, “There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new (law).”

“By enforcing this statute,” she said, “Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”

The law will go into effect tomorrow, but without its most controversial provisions.

SB 1070, was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in April. It has been challenged in various lawsuits brought be police officers, the ACLU and other civil rights groups, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Critics contend that it the law is unconstitutional because they say it usurps the federal government’s role in enforcing immigration law. They also contend that the law will increase the incidence of racial profiling by police.

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Immigrant Students Arrested at Sen. McCain’s Office


New America Media, News Report, Annette Fuentes

TUCSON, Ariz.–Dressed in blue graduation caps and gowns, four students were arrested Monday evening at Sen. John McCain’s office as they called for passage of legislation to assist immigrant students wanting to attend U.S. colleges.

Tucson police arrested and booked the youth on trespassing charges and took them to the Pima County Jail. Federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a detention order on three who are undocumented immigrants.

“We’re putting ourselves on the line, for people we really believe in,” said Mohammad Abdollahi, 24, an undocumented immigrant from Iran, who was arrested. He lives in Ann Arbor, Mo., and is the co-founder of DreamActivists.Org.

“This is not about us,” he said. “This is about the hundreds of thousands of young people who have the same dream, and we want to provide them with the same opportunity.”

The protestors were calling on McCain to support the Dream Act, a bill that would allow youth who enter the country illegally before age 16 to legalize their status by continuing to pursue higher education or enrolling in the military.

Abdollahi said his education was interrupted due to his immigration status. He cannot return to Iran, he said, because he is gay and there homosexuality is punishable by death. Before his arrest, he said he would be willing to stay in a detention center for as long as takes for the Dream Act to pass.

The students’ action was the latest act of civil disobedience nationally and among the first in Arizona lead by undocumented immigrant youth, coming as a national coalition headed by Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) announced similar actions across the nation.

“They are elevating the reality that at the end of the day, they have to expose to the nation what’s happening to them, and it might just mean that they would be deported,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). Salas called the student’s actions “inspirational” and said “that really compels us and the nation to act urgently because the need is great.”

The students targeted McCain, a former Dream Act supporter, to ask him to sponsor it in Congress. Flavia de la Fuente, a spokesperson for the group, said they were considering meeting with McCain after his staff expressed his interest.

“It is their right to peacefully protest,” said McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan in a prepared statement. “Sen. McCain understands the students’ frustrations, but elections have consequences and they should focus their efforts on the president and the Democrats that control the agenda in Congress,”

McCain, who is running for re-election, previously pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. But with J.D. Hayworth, a hardliner calling for border militarization, as his primary opponent, McCain has now called for border security without legalization.

The day of the protest, McCain issued a press release calling on Pres. Barack Obama to deploy the National Guard to the southern border.

“We feel he’s playing politics with the lives of our communities. For the purpose of being a politician, he’s taking an anti-immigrant stance when we know that in the past he has supported undocumented youth,” said Lizbeth Mateo, 25, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She is an organizer with DREAM Team Los Angeles, Calif., who was also arrested.

All students are activists who have been involved with coalitions in Illinois, Michigan, Arizona and California. With their action they hope to inspire other undocumented students to come out of the shadows and mobilize for the Dream Act, getting involved in similar acts of civil disobedience if necessary.

“We worked, we lobbied, we faxed, we emailed, we’ve staged rallies, we’ve done interviews. We‘ve done everything and we reached the point were we can’t give anything else of ourselves,” said Yahaira Carrillo, 25, another undocumented Mexican student from Kansas, Mo., who was among the arrested. “It’s not about us anymore. It’s about the bigger movement and the community and the young people that are coming to us every day telling us that their homes are dashed, that their dreams are broken and that they don’t know how to go on.”

It is estimated that about 65,000 students graduate from high school every year and cannot pursue higher education because of their immigration status.

Protestors chose Arizona as the site of their action because of recent state laws that target undocumented immigrants and eliminate ethnic studies. 

“In Arizona we’re seeing an increase in attacks, and we’re escalating our tactics,” said Raul Alcaraz, 26, a U.S. citizen and Arizonan who was arrested. “We are tired of injustice.”

The arrestees are due in court June 16 on the misdemeanor trespassing charges. When they are resolved, they would be turned over to ICE. All of them have legal representation.

“We were prepared for this,” said de la Fuente. “It’s unfortunate that our immigration system feels that they don’t belong in this country and should be treated as criminals.”

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Apartheid Hits Arizona


New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez, Review it on NewsTrustReview it on NewsTrust

TUCSON HIGH SCHOOL: As I prepare to speak to an innovative class here about indigenous philosophies, the students begin their class in the following manner:

In Lak Ech – Tu eres mi otro yo – You are my other self. I am you and you are me. If I hurt you, I hurt myself. If I hate you, I hate myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.

Students here, part of the Tucson Unified School District’s highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) K-12 program, the largest in the nation, are taught this and other indigenous concepts, including how to measure time by the Aztec and Mayan calendars. Not coincidentally, academically, MAS students -– many of whom were doing poorly prior to entering this program -– consistently outperform their peers. It is virtually a college-bound factory.

But in the state capital, Phoenix: Arizona’s state superintendent of schools Tom Horne has just engineered the passage of a new draconian state law, HB 2281, that would eliminate all funding for ethnic studies programs.

Five hundred and eighteen years after Columbus initiated the theft of a continent, Horne, the state’s would-be governor, is using the passage of HB 2281, to perpetuate the notion that indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge remain outside of western civilization.

This is the same state that recently passed the racial profiling SB 1070 law; the primary targets would be Mexicans and Central Americans with indigenous features, suspected of being “illegal aliens.”


Despite the success of the MAS program, Horne has long expressed the view that the only things that should be taught in Arizona schools are lessons that originate in western or Greco-Roman civilization. While his bill affects the whole state, his primary target has long been Tucson’s program.

Through the bill, Horne mischaracterizes the program by claiming that its teachers preach hate, segregation, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the government. The bill sets up an inquisitorial mechanism that will monitor books and curricula. Horne has been especially critical of Rudy Acuña’s “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” and Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

This is not the only effort to punish indigenous peoples in Arizona’s educational system. Separately, the Arizona Department of Education has banned teachers with heavy accents from teaching English classes.

Welcome to Apartheid Arizona.

Tucson federal courthouse: Like clockwork, at 1:30 p.m., 70 short, brown men (and sometimes a few women) occupy the left side of the courtroom, shackled at the ankles, the waist, and the wrists. Within one hour, they are charged, tried and convicted en masse of being illegally present in the United States. After being dehumanized, they are then paraded out of the courtroom. Most have either served or are sentenced to the private detention facility, operated by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA). This drama unfolds every day here except Saturday and Sunday, every week of the year.

Welcome to Operation Streamline. Its goal is to criminalize every migrant that steps into this kangaroo court, while enriching CCA to the tune of $15 million per month.

Southside Tucson: Several days before the state legislature passes SB 1070, a massive raid involving 800 military-clad U.S. federal agents swoops into this primarily Mexican-indigenous community, occupying and terrorizing its residents, all for the purpose of arresting 48 suspects in a human smuggling operation.

Maricopa County: While Sheriff Joe Arpaio denies a racial motivation, over the weekend, he showcases his 15th major “crime sweep” since early 2008 in Phoenix. The sweeps -– which target Mexican-indigenous communities -– may have actually backfired. They provide a glimpse to the world of how the entire state and nation could look like if SB 1070 is affirmed. To conduct these sweeps, Arpaio utilizes the state’s anti-human smuggling law, accusing migrants of being accomplices in their own smuggling. Such a use of the law smacks of official kidnapping and terror.

While there were undoubtedly many Arpaios in South Africa during the apartheid era, there were no Operation Streamlines there. Kangaroo courts yes, but not daily one-hour mass-show trials.

The Arizona-Mexico border: In the realm of violence, Arizona is no South Africa, but we do have our own killing fields. For the past dozen years, some 5,000 migrants have been found dead in the inhospitable desert; medical reports confirm that many have died due to violence, including blunt trauma to the head. That many thousands of migrants are funneled through the desert annually has long been official policy of U.S. immigration officials. Under international law, at best, this could be construed as negligent homicide.

Washington, D.C.: Ironically, in response to these draconian laws and measures, even Democrats have been cowed into pushing for more apartheid measures –walls, more agents and the further militarization of the border — as a solution.

Just solutions for the problems listed here require calling for international agreements that place human beings at the center, without losing their citizenship, culture, rights or their humanity.

Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com

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Census: Masking Identities or Counting the Indigenous Among Us?

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