Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Battleground Arizona: Students take the streets for immigrant rights and against racism

By James Jordan

_Undocumented students arrested in McCain’s office, held for deportation _

Middle school students forming part of the chain around the TUSD offices.

Tucson, AZ – Arizona has seen an explosion of Chicano and Mexicano led student resistance to racist laws and in defense of the right to a quality education. Nowhere is this more evident than in the city of Tucson, which is singled out for attack by racist elements of state government. The struggle has attracted attention across the nation. Since the state House and Senate adopted the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino law, SB1070, thousands of students have walked out of school in protest and there has been a wave of youth-led direct actions.

On May 12, students surrounded the Tucson Unified School District to stop TUSD’s ethnic studies program from being shut down. On May 17, the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, students from across the country came to occupy the Tucson office of U.S. Senator John McCain to demand passage of the Dream Act, legislation that would give some undocumented students the opportunity to legally pursue higher education. Four of the students were arrested by Tucson police, three of whom were undocumented. After being released from jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took the three undocumented students into custody where they are now awaiting deportation.

A human chain of hundreds gathered at a May 12 protest to defend local education from the racist attacks of State Superintendant of Education Tom Horne. Chanting, “Our education is under attack! What do we do? Fight back!” the crowd could be heard blocks away. Those present were mostly Latino, mostly middle and high school students, but with significant multi-ethnic and multi-age support. Students walked out of school, organizing the demonstration in just a couple of hours when they learned that Horne was coming to Tucson. According to some students, he had come “to personally shut down ethnic studies classes.” However, that was one plan Horne had to cancel.

About 400 students walked out in protest. HB2281, which Horne personally authored, is a direct attack on TUSD’s ethnic studies program, which was won through popular struggle over ten years ago. Horne’s law bans ethnic studies and punishes districts in violation of the law by withholding 10% of their budget. TUSD Board member Adelita Grijalva told an April rally, “We have people up there in Phoenix focused on one district…Instead, they should focus on funding the state’s schools!”

TUSD officials had requested Horne’s presence for a private meeting to discuss the new legislation, which goes into effect on Dec. 31. Horne, who is in a primary race for the state’s Attorney General Office, decided to make a statement to the press before leaving for Tucson. In response, TUSD canceled the meeting.

Tucson businessman Raul Aguirre, talking with Fight Back!, compared this legislation with earlier measures such as the English-only bill and bills attacking bilingual education. Addressing the students, Aguirre said, “In a time of a global economy, when people everywhere are talking about getting a global perspective, this is myopic!”

Later that day, around 200 students and allies marched to the state building, where Horne had gone to make yet another public statement. Around 40 people entered and occupied the building, with 15 people arrested before the day was done. Media representatives were physically forced to leave before the arrests were completed, according to videographer Jason Aragones.

HB2281 outlaws programs that are aimed at students of particular ethnicities or that advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” However, TUSD ethnic studies classes have always been open to and attended by students of any ethnicity. Likewise, students attend and participate in classes ‘individually’ and they are graded ‘individually.’ Revealing the subjective and arbitrary nature of the legislation, its enforcement is left to the State Superintendant’s discretion.

During an interview with CNN later that evening, Horne’s defense of the bill seemed almost paranoid as he denounced the wearing of sunglasses and berets as “revolutionary.” Horne told CNN “…we should be teaching the kids that this is a land of opportunity, and not teach them the downer that they’re oppressed and…they should be angry against their government...I brought in a picture that you might want to show that shows the revolutionary garb that they wore when they protested against my law with masks, sunglasses, berets, brown shirts.”

HB2281 is the first passed of several pending bills that would encode racist measures in Arizona schools. Also under consideration are bills requiring students to prove their citizenship status and for schools to report those without proper documents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The protests and arrests that took place surrounding Horne’s visit are the latest examples of a growing militancy in the Arizona fight back. Mobilizations exploded with the passage in the state house of SB1070, a law that institutionalizes racial profiling. SB1070 gives state law enforcement authority to detain and investigate anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. In Arizona, that means anyone with brown skin, speaking Spanish. Two days after that vote, the White House carried out a militaristic raid of Latino communities in Arizona by more than 800 ICE agents, with the cooperation of local and state law enforcement. Many local activists saw this as an unspoken endorsement of Arizona’s new policies.

Since then, anti-racist Arizonans have been arrested several times in direct actions, thousands of students have participated in walk-outs and there have been almost daily demonstrations – many days with more than one. On May 7, students, teachers and community members conducted a 24-hour vigil in support of ethnic studies at Tucson High School. Meanwhile, reports came in from the border cities of Nogales and San Luis that on the Mexican side, motorists had shut down the ports of entry in protest. Eyewitnesses say that on the U.S. side, people were getting out of their cars, raising their fists and voices in a show of solidarity.

The four college students arrested on May 17 after the daylong occupation of Senator McCain’s Tucson offices – Lizbeth Mateo, Yahaira Carrillos, Mohammad Abdollahi and Raúl Alcaraz – had ties to Illinois, California, Kansas, Michigan and of course, Arizona. The undocumented protesters, Mateo, Carrillos and Abdollahi are now in custody of ICE. As the students were being taken to jail in a police van, the crowd chanted, “Undocumented! Unafraid!”

Chicano activist César Wolf did a call and response with the crowd:

“Are we going to unite brown people into this movement?”


“Are we going to unite Mexicans into this movement?”


“Are we going to unite white people…Asians…our abuelitos…our youth into this movement?”


Speaking for those arrested, Tanya Unzueta, who has been in the U.S. since the age of ten, said “I am undocumented, living in Chicago. There are four students inside, three of them undocumented. They send a message of love.These students have risked their lives, their education, their freedom. Now it is up to us to make sure they are not forgotten...If they were able to do this, then – what are you going to do?”

As the movement in Arizona grows, supporters across the country are being asked to come to Phoenix on May 29 as part of a national protest against the state’s anti-immigrant laws and to demand an end to federal policies that militarize the border and criminalize undocumented workers. Meanwhile, the summer of 2010 has been declared “Freedom Summer” by several organizations. To learn more about May 29, go to Those interested in coming to Southern Arizona to join in solidarity activities this summer can learn more by writing [email protected].

People are also being asked to support the struggle in Arizona by: 1) demanding that the federal government not cooperate with SB1070 and to take quick action to keep it from being implemented, and 2) boycotting Arizona until SB1070 and other anti-immigrant and anti-Latino laws are repealed.

The boycott includes conventions and conferences in Arizona, visits to the state (not including visits to close friends and family or to take part in solidarity actions) and a refusal to patronize the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose owners provide major funding to the Arizona Republican Party and supporters of sb1070.

Sadly, in the midst of these growing mobilizations, another increase is taking place. The number has grown by 60% over last year for undocumented workers dying as they try to cross desert borderlands. Already, the remains of 110 persons have been found. Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, over 5000 displaced and undocumented workers have died crossing the US-Mexico desert. They are displaced because of NAFTA provisions that have destroyed rural economies. The situation is worsened by the border’s militarization, forcing workers to cross the most inhospitable and harshest of terrains. (For more information: .)

If the middle and high school students leading these anti-racist struggles have anything to say about it, these fallen workers will not have died in vain. These students and their allies are organized, fired up and ready for a protracted struggle. Speaking bluntly about “the house that racism has built” one young Chicano activist declared: “We are coming to burn your house down!”

Tania Unzueta, spokesperson for the students arrested at McCain's office.

#TucsonAZ #Arizona #BoycottArizona #SB1070