Immigration

With Immigration Reform on the Table, Arizona Activists Say Kelly and Sinema Aren't Doing Enough

Karina Ruiz speaks at a rally in Phoenix for a pathway to citizenship.
Karina Ruiz speaks at a rally in Phoenix for a pathway to citizenship. Fuerte Arizona
Until this Sunday, it seemed that the stars might be aligning in Washington for immigration advocates: A Democrat-controlled Senate planned to pass major immigration reforms for the first time in decades via a budget deal that would allow the plan to pass via Democrats' simple majority.

But that plan ran aground late Sunday when the Senate parliamentarian rejected the inclusion of the reforms in the budget deal. It was a major blow to immigration advocates, many thousands of immigrant youth in Arizona who had hoped to soon see a pathway to citizenship, and others who are undocumented.

Since Sunday, activists have rallied in Phoenix to push for a workaround — and called on Arizona’s Senators to take a more public stance in favor of the reforms. But so far, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema have stayed relatively quiet on the issue.

For Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient and the founder of Aliento, a Phoenix-based organization that works with undocumented youth, the development was "another heartbreak," she said — after getting her hopes up that, after twenty years living in the U.S., she would no longer fear deportation.


“I feel exhausted, I feel tired, I feel disappointed,” she said. The students she works with at Aliento are “devastated," she said, particularly given the uncertainty around DACA, which is now frozen.

“But we don’t have the luxury not to fight,” Montoya said.

All eyes are on Sinema and Kelly, who will be key players as another fight for the reforms plays out in the Senate. On Monday, activists gathered outside Kelly’s office, calling on him to openly reject the parliamentarian's decision — which some fellow Senate Democrats have done. On Tuesday, another coalition of groups protested Sinema's office.

“Many of us have walked the streets in Arizona for these candidates to represent people like ourselves,” said Karina Ruiz, the executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. “They owe us that representation in this moment.”

Instead, Ruiz says, she feels abandoned; neither Sinema nor Kelly have made a public show of their support for a workaround for the immigration deal. “And in our community, we know that this is our life on the line,” she told Phoenix New Times.

In a statement to New Times, Kelly spokesperson Marisol Samayoa wrote that Kelly “continues to believe that Dreamers have been waiting far too long for certainty and a pathway to citizenship and remains committed to working in the Senate to find a path forward.” Samayoa also noted that Kelly had previously tweeted out his support for DACA — though that tweet was more than a year ago. (Kelly told the Arizona Republic after this story was published that he was "disappointed" in the parliamentarian's decision.)

A Sinema spokesperson sent New Times a statement noting that the senator “supports securing our border and fixing our broken immigration system, including passing a permanent fix for DREAMers,” but would not offer specific comments while discussions on the budget deal were ongoing.

Montoya said she was "grateful" for the statements, but that they fell short, given the Senators' constituencies; she had hoped that they would come out publicly and commit to fighting for the reforms. It was clear from their silence, aside from brief statements to press, that the reforms were not a priority, she said.

“Arizona is a key state for immigration,” Montoya said. “We really need them to lead on this. At the end of the day, their words become empty if they aren’t followed by policy change.”

A path to citizenship for immigrants is broadly popular among Arizonans, a recent ACLU poll found; over two-thirds supported a path to citizenship for at least some undocumented immigrants — up from just 60 percent five years ago. About 62 percent of Arizonans said they would support a pathway for immigrants with temporary protected status, which allows people escaping armed conflict and national disaster from certain countries to reside in the U.S. legally.

“Arizona voters have voiced their support for citizenship," said Victoria López, the advocacy director for Arizona ACLU, in the press release for the poll. “Now is the time for our leaders to listen and take action.”

A pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and those with TPS status was planned for inclusion in the Democrats’ budget deal. But the policies have their detractors, and many Senate Republicans objected to the loophole the Senate was planning to use to pass the overhaul.

But it's looking more and more likely that any comprehensive immigration reforms will have to gain bipartisan support in the Senate — a daunting prospect. Advocates say they plan on turning up the heat until a deal is made.

“We cannot afford to walk away empty-handed,” Ruiz said.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. She previously reported for VTDigger and the Indypendent.
Contact: Katya Schwenk