Welcome to Arizona

By Elissa Barrett
Elissa Barrett is the Executive Director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.  Last week she documented her journey in words and pictures on twitter.

“Welcome to Hell,” said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox only half jokingly to the hundreds of people packed into St. Matthews Catholic Church a mile’s march from City Hall in Phoenix.  At 4:00 am that morning (July 29, 2010), I boarded a bus bound for Arizona, one among many filled with Los Angeles County Federation of Labor members and an assortment of Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy.  Undeterred by the 14-hour roundtrip, we sped through the desert on our way to protest SB 1070, portions of which went into effect that day despite federal judge Susan Bolton’s partial injunction.

Wilcox’s greeting, while somewhat stark, summarizes the range of views about Arizona.  For the ranchers and El Norte side border dwellers who view with growing concern the northward spread of Mexico’s drug wars, Arizona is a land of terror and uncertainty.  My own family is no stranger to these fears:  my sister and her family have lived in El Paso, Texas for almost a decade.  She used to cross the border every month to staff a free reproductive health clinic, but no more.  For years before the cartel wars exploded, she and other health workers witnessed a growing scourge of murders targeting women who labored in Juarez’s NAFTA enabled factories:  the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

For the men, women and children who flee endemic poverty and violence, Arizona has long been a land of refuge, hope and opportunity – recently transformed into hostile territory treacherous for many mixtas (families whose members have varying citizenship status).  At St. Matthews Church we heard the gut wrenching stories of those families.

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Last week Elissa documented her journey in words and pictures on