‘An ugly tactic’: Lawsuit questions citizenship of future Latina lawmaker

Raquel Terán press conference
Raquel Terán responds to a lawsuit, filed without supporting documents, that questions her U.S. citizenship on Nov. 9. Other Democratic members of the Arizona Legislature and leaders from community groups stand behind her. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Representative-elect Raquel Terán said she “will not be intimidated” by lawsuit challenging her eligibility to hold office on grounds of her U.S. citizenship.

Alice Novoa, a resident of a small community near Douglas, filed the lawsuit with Maricopa County Superior Court on Nov. 5. Novoa presented no evidence that Terán is not an American citizen in her lawsuit.

The next day, Terán was elected to the House of Representatives for District 30, which includes the west side of Phoenix and parts of Glendale. Terán called the lawsuit an “ugly tactic” at a press conference Friday.

“Really, this psychological warfare designed to exclude people like me or the voices of the constituents I look forward to serving,” she said. “I’m not going to be intimidated by birtherism.”

In an interview with the Arizona Mirror, Novoa repeatedly called Terán an “illegal alien.”

“This is not her country, and it’s never going to be her country. Never,” she said. “She should’ve never run again… She should’ve kept herself quiet y no andar corriendo en dónde no le importa (and not run around where it’s none of her business).”  

Novoa identified herself as a U.S. citizen of Mexican ancestry.  

Alice Novoa
Alice Novoa from MacNeal, Arizona, filed a lawsuit with no evidence against Representative-elect Raquel Terán challenging her eligibility to hold office on grounds of her U.S. citizenship. Photo courtesy YouTube

Novoa filed a similar lawsuit against Terán in 2012 when she ran unsuccessfully for the Arizona Senate. At the time, Terán provided a copy of her Arizona birth certificate to the court, but a Maricopa Superior Court judge dismissed the case because an error in the lawsuit filing, according to court records.

Novoa has made similar unfounded claims about a Douglas justice of the peace, according to the Douglas Dispatch.  

Terán, who was born in the border community of Douglas, said the lawsuit angers her and is an unfair burden that most candidates never have to bear.

“It’s not right to put the burden on me to yet again answer questions about my citizenship, about my loyalty to this country, about my Americaness,” Terán said. “It’s not fair to put me on the other. I am an American.

“This is another example of the anti-immigrant climate in our state and in our country that seeks to exclude people like me rather to include us,” Terán said.

Novoa said her purpose is to expose a lie.

“I’m not a racist. I just want them (undocumented immigrants) to get it right,” Novoa said. Asked if there’s other Arizona elected officials she thinks are not U.S. citizens, Novoa said she had “no comment on anybody else.”

“This is on Raquel Terán,” she said.

Jim Barton, Terán’s lawyer, said the lawsuit will likely be dismissed on technicalities because “it’s so procedurally deficient.” Barton said the lawsuit is an attack with “racist underpinnings” and is an improper use of the legal system.

“It’s not the first time this person has filed a frivolous lawsuit, and we are going to do everything we can to seek fees and sanctions, because this is not an appropriate use of the legal system and, frankly, it’s a disgrace to our country to see this kind of thing happen here in America,” Barton said.

A hearing is scheduled Nov. 14.

A history of anti-immigrant comments

Novoa has publicly shared views on theories the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled as nativist conspiracies.

At a Tempe city council meeting in January, during which an anti-border-wall resolution was considered, Novoa said the border is “infested with illegal aliens” and that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was either an “anchor baby” or an “illegal alien.”

Anchor baby is a derogatory term that asserts immigrant parents have U.S.-born children for the purpose of gaining lawful immigration status. Becerra was born in California to immigrant parents, was elected to the California State Assembly and served twelve terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s been Attorney General since 2017.  

In the Tempe meeting, Navoa also said young immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor were associated with a “radical Islamic-Mexican-Catholic movement.”

Then-councilmember David Schapira responded to Novoa’s comments calling them slanderous and untruthful.

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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