Border tensions are an inescapable fact of life in Tucson, the city where Richard Estrada grew up and has spent most of his life. “We are a foot away from Mexico,” Estrada says. Everything about life in Tucson is shaped by the negative “us versus them” rhetoric around immigration—even in unexpected places.
Because Tucson public school students are more than 60 percent Hispanic and just 20 percent white, for example, Estrada believes they face de facto discrimination. Tucson’s schools are critically underfunded. They’re now suffering from a shortage of teachers, Estrada says, “and it’s because teachers aren’t being treated well, and they haven’t had a raise in years.” He attributes this to policies enacted by the harshly anti-immigrant former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was recently recently ousted by voters and federal prosecutors have charged him with criminal contempt of court for profiling Latinos.
There’s a lot of people here in town who are legal, but because of things that happen, they worry about their children.
Estrada’s sister is one of the people affected. She worked as a teacher in Tucson for many years, but recently decided to move to California because she can’t afford to support her family on her current salary. ”She doesn’t want to give up on teaching, but it’s just too hard,” Estrada says.
Estrada is a native of Tucson. His parents both hold dual American and Mexican citizenship. His father served in the military and then became a carpenter; his mother has a doctorate in education and has worked in school administration. His uncle is a sheriff in Santa Cruz County. Estrada’s wife just became an American citizen a year ago. “It was hard,” Estrada says. He’s a carpenter and an activist, and the process was both longer and more expensive than he expected. “I work two or three jobs just to provide for myself,” he says. “I had to borrow money from my mom and my sister” to cover the roughly $3,000 cost of the citizenship process, including the extra cost incurred when the government misplaced a form he had filed, forcing him to start the process over.
Although Estrada and his family are all American citizens, he says the rhetoric around immigration creates a climate of fear in Tucson. “My son is 11 years old, and he’s a dark skinned Mexican. He looks like an illegal Mexican,” Estrada says. “Don’t you think that I’m afraid for my son, that he’s going to have racial profiling done to him?” Stories of separated families that spread through the community make everyone afraid, Estrada says. “There’s a lot of people here in town who are legal, but because of things that happen, they worry about their children.”
Creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would help the whole community, bringing people out of the shadows and giving them a voice to advocate for themselves and their families. Estrada says he would even support undocumented immigrants having to pay a penalty to get on a path to legal status—as long as these people are given a chance to fully participate in the society they contribute to which they contribute so much. Making more immigrants full members of the community and dismantling the “us versus them” mentality in Arizona would ultimately help all of Tucson’s families.