Immigrant Leadership for a New Arizona


When it comes to immigration, is Arizona finally making a U-turn?

Perhaps not immediately, as many legislators and the Governor still support anti-immigrant policies. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a federal court’s ruling to overturn Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s executive order banning DREAMers from receiving driver’s licenses is hopefully a harbinger of change to come.

Arizona’s seemingly ongoing war with its Latino population is almost comically at odds with the national sentiment, which leans towards immigrant inclusion. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that Americans now believe that immigrants strengthen the country by a margin of 54-36, and a CNN poll showed that 54 percent of the American populace believes that employed undocumented immigrants should be eventually allowed to become legal U.S. residents.

The Dream Act Coalition of Arizona and five local DREAMers brought the suit against the executive order when they felt their job prospects were severely hindered as a result of their inability to drive legally. Their suit demonstrates the increasingly vital role that immigrant leadership, particularly among DREAMers is playing at the local level. Despite their uncertain legal status, DREAMers have helped move policy change and empowered campaigns in Arizona. At the same time, this is a rare victory for Arizona’s immigrants. More bills are passed on the city and state level that have not been similarly halted in their tracks, such as Arizona’s infamous virulently anti-immigrant SB1070 law.

How should Arizona change the picture, then, on a city and state level in order to get in line with nation’s pro-immigrant stance?

While advocacy organizations play an important role in advancing immigrant rights, they need the support of immigrant leaders within state and city government. In our respective roles as activist/scholar and elected official, we understand the importance of diverse voices in shaping legislation for our diverse nation.

The immigrant population in Arizona cannot be ignored, or as Governor Brewer would have it, legislated away.

The untapped potential of Latino leaders within the state is an enviable resource and Arizona could stand to elect more immigrants to its state legislature. Currently, Latinos make up 30 percent of Arizona’s population yet only 19 percent of the state legislature.  Additionally, by the year 2020, 36 percent of Arizona’s population is projected to be Latino. Arizona will then need a total of 32 Latino lawmakers to accurately reflect its immigrant population. Immigrant leaders can play an important role, proposing immigrant friendly bills and working to halt backward bills like Governor Brewer’s anti-driver’s license order.

The immigrant population in Arizona cannot be ignored, or as Governor Brewer would have it, legislated away. Rather than propose exclusionary tactics, especially against DREAMers who were brought to the U.S. as children, weaving these folks into the fold so they can have equal access to education and jobs, then give back to the Arizona’s economy and the only home they’ve known, is a far better ideal. The future of Arizona would be more promising if the 34,000 DREAMers who could currently benefit from DACA in Arizona or the 19,000 future DREAMers between ages 5 and 14 in the state were seamlessly integrated into communities.

Currently, Arizona’s undocumented residents contribute about 374 million dollars in taxes. If they were fully able to participate in the system, or heck, drive to their jobs, the contributions would increase. Nationally, these newly “DACAmented” youth have begun to give back; it’s estimated that 60 percent have new jobs and 45 percent say their income has increased.

Latinos and other immigrants are as much a key to Arizona’s future as they are to the rest of our country. It is time for the state to begin driving in the right lane, and immigrant leaders can help make it happen.


Sayu Bhojwani (Ph.D. in Education, Columbia) is a Visiting Scholar at the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the President and Founder of The New American Leaders Project (NALP) and Rebecca Jimenez is Mayor of Guadalupe, Arizona.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jason Karsh