In October 2012 while visiting Arizona, I met Brittania, a young woman that a former professional colleague of mine knew well. Her family story struck me at the time as one that was important to listen to within the climate of Arizona’s series of anti-immigration reform bills, including but not limited to SB 1070.
Arizona SB 1070 makes it legal, during law enforcement stops (which need not be documented), for a law enforcement officer to demand papers from an individual “suspected to be an illegal alien” to prove that that person has a right to be within the United States. Failure to have adequate papers immediately counts as a misdemeanor, thereby forcing the individual to court, where further lack of proof could lead to arrest and deportation.
I did not share Brittania’s story in October 2012. However, with the recent protest on the US-Mexico border reuniting families that have been separated by deportation, as well as the discussion on immigration reform that has begun this week, I decided now was an appropriate time to share it.
The question of immigration is also relevant to wine country, and the U.S. agricultural industry more broadly (one of the top forces of the U.S. economy), as the legal and political climates surrounding the issue impact the available work force within wine country, and agricultural regions more broadly. California wine regions, in particular, have suffered increased challenges with finding adequate work forces to harvest when desired. The Napa Valley Vintners recently made a formal statement in support of Immigration Reform in the United States.
Though aspects of Brittania’s story may appear particular to Arizona, it highlights the reality of concern for families dealing with immigration issues more generally. While Arizona has received a lot of media attention on immigration issues in the last several years, California went through serious changes immediately prior and during, and numerous other states throughout the nation have as well. In other words, it is a national reality.
The following is a transcript of parts of my conversation with Brittania.
Listening to Brittania
“My mom moved here when she was 20 years old with my dad. They have 3 kids. We were all born here. I am the oldest. I have two younger brothers. One is in high school, the other is 10. On September 26, my mom was stopped by a cop. She was driving to work. On the way there she looked back to double check on my brother.
“Every day my 10-year old brother bikes to school, so my mom goes the same route to check on him. She turned to look at my brother on his bike and a cop pulled her over. He said she was going too slow. She was going 40 in a 45. But the ticket doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say why he pulled her over. There is no violation claim, only that she has no Arizona ID.
“He started asking a lot of questions–where she lived, what she was doing here. He asked a lot of questions, but none about traffic. She has an Oregon license. We lived there. It is valid, and she has insurance. The ticket has no charge. It only says she has no valid Arizona license, and that she has one month to go to court and get one. She can’t get an Arizona license because of how the law works here. But if she doesn’t get one she could be deported.
“I am trying to help. My mom has raised us. She raises my brothers. I am in college. My youngest brother is 10. My parents were divorced last year. My dad lives in Utah. I talked to lawyers. They said she can be held and detained, or she could be let go. Here they don’t know. But she could be detained. There is no one else to take care of my brothers.
“My mom has been in the country continuously for 20 years. She works in customer service. She has been in the same job for the last 5 years. We were in Oregon, but we moved to Arizona when I was a freshman in high school. My parents came into California 20 years ago. My dad had family here in the US. They all got Amnesty. They are all citizens, so my parents came too. But Amnesty ended and my parents didn’t get it.
“When I was 6 my dad started a residency case, trying to be legal for the whole family. He would go to court every year, show his kids were in school and had good grades, that he had a business. It took more than 10 years for him to get residency, but it didn’t go to my mom.
“My dad is a resident. All three of her kids are citizens. In a year I will be 21, then I can open a case for my mom. But now because she was pulled over, my mom is forced to open a case on her own. We’re trying to figure out what to do. My mom has never committed any crime. She’s been here 20 years. She has always worked, and paid her taxes. She has 3 kids. She raises them. But a family petition may not work. She might not have all the requirements. I am trying to do what I can to help.
“When I graduated from high school, I told my mom I wasn’t going to move for school because I wanted to stay and help with my brothers, but she told me no, that now I was supposed to go to college. She told me I’m supposed to go to college.
“My mom does everything for us. My brother is a Junior in high school, and a football player. The team had a trip planned to go to Ireland to play football. She wanted him to be able to go. So she worked extra for 2 years to save money so they could afford for him to go. She talked to local businesses and they helped raise money for him too. She worked for more than 2 years to save $4000 so they could afford for him to go to Ireland in his Junior year for a one-week trip.
“She gives all her money for her kids, and tries to help my brothers get what they need to feel like they fit in. My mom is always in positive attitude to keep the kids up beat. She maintains herself for the sake of her kids. She calls her mom back in Mexico. It’s the only time my mom will cry. I think she is the nicest person, so respectful, always looking out for others, and now she needs all the support she can get. I am just trying to do whatever I can here.”
From the NY Times: “According to a recent study by Colorlines, a news Web site focusing on racial issues, about 205,000 people who were deported between 2010 and 2012 had children who were American citizens and living in this country. There are no solid estimates of the number of deportees’ children who are not citizens.”
When we met, Brittania was a sophomore in college majoring in Special Education, with a focus on Elementary Education. In her Freshman year she took a Seminar course on immigration in the United States, visited a detention center, and attended a conference on immigration. The experience changed her views of the issue, and made her realize the difficulties of her family situation. Since, she has chosen to do organizing work to raise awareness of immigration issues in Arizona. Outside her own classes, she also volunteers in elementary schools, working in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms helping students that need assistance with reading, or homework, and also assisting teachers.
Prior to her mother’s deadline, an immigration lawyer was able to help change the ruling so that Brittania’s mother did not have to appear in court. The reality of Arizona law, however, is that if her mother is ever met by another law enforcement officer, she could find herself in the same situation again, facing deportation.
A debate on overhauling current U.S. immigration legislation has just begun in Washington. Obama spoke this week in support of the overhaul. To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/us/politics/with-senate-set-to-vote-obama-makes-immigration-pitch.html?hp
To read more on the recent US-Mexico border protest: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/us/divided-immigrant-families-reunite-at-arizona-fence.html?hp&_r=0
To read more on the role of immigration on the U.S. workforce, and economy:
The question of immigration is foundational to U.S. wine country, and agricultural work more generally. To read more: http://www.napavintners.com/about/ab_5_immigration_reform.aspx
The Washington Post on Immigration and the Economy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/immigrants-help-us-economy-study-says/2013/06/13/187dda4a-d437-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_story.html
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