When his bare feet touched the cold dirt floor marking the end of an 18-hour drive, the 9-year-old boy didn’t feel at home. Wrapped in a blanket, in the middle of the night, the boy stepped away from his dad’s parked truck.
He was almost 700 miles east of the Phoenix house where his grandmother, Lucy, lived. That was his “home home.” It was late 2010.
The boy, Alexis Delgado Garcia, and his dad, mom and baby sister were driven out of Arizona after two years of workplace raids and traffics stop targeting Latinos that resulted in his dad losing his welding job, his godfather being deported to Mexico, and his aunts and uncles moving out of state.
“A lot of disaster was happening in Phoenix,” Delgado recalled.
Months before Delgado’s family packed their belongings in a truck and a U-Haul and left for a small Texas town near the New Mexico border, state legislators had passed SB1070 to identify, prosecute and deport people who lacked immigration status.
One of the ideas underpinning the law was that it would lead to “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants by intimidating them: If Arizona was a place they might face arrest or deportation, they would pull up their stakes and go somewhere else, like Delgado’s family did.
Ten years later, a few weeks into the legislative session, Republican proposals that many critics considered “today’s SB1070” picked up steam.
Gov. Doug Ducey pushed the highest-profile measure. It sought to amend the state constitution to require police comply with any order from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which can without a warrant question and detain people it suspects are violating civil and criminal immigration laws.
Ducey announced Feb. 20 he and GOP leaders were pulling the plug on the proposal.
The next day, Delgado, now 18, stood tall at the Arizona Capitol.
He was among the dozens of young community organizers, longtime activists, Latino lawmakers, lawyers, and faith and business leaders who gathered on a windy morning to celebrate the defeat of the two Republican-led immigration enforcement measures.
There, with a gold chain around his neck shining in the sun against his black T-shirt, Delgado told Arizona Mirror about the “night that changed my life.”
From Phoenix to Muleshoe and back
His parents, uncles, aunts and cousins gathered in a room in his grandmother Lucy’s west Phoenix house, which he called “the headquarters for all our family.”
“Everybody was crying, I didn’t know what was happening … It felt like something bad was going to happen,” he said.
Amid the sadness, Delgado sensed his family was trying to stretch time. They wanted to make that time together memorable because no one knew if they’d be gathered like that again.
They rubbed his forehead and sang lullabies to get him to sleep.
“They weren’t able to because they were crying,” Delgado said.
At around 3 a.m., Lucy, in tears, told him outside her home to take care of his mother and baby sister. She gave him a pat on the butt, his family’s good luck gesture. Moments later, Delgado, his parents and sister were on the highway headed for Texas.
Eighteen hours later, Delgado got on the phone with Lucy. He told her he’ll miss her. It sunk in that he wouldn’t see her anymore.
“Whenever your best friend tells you something and it hurts a lot, a lot … It was that same feeling,” he said.
In the five years they lived in the city of Muleshoe, Texas, he never felt like he belonged.
“I lost my relationship with my grandma,” Delgado said. “I lost everything with my family. I couldn’t connect with them like I connected before, even though I tried so hard to.”
In a visit to Phoenix in 2015, his dad was offered back the job he lost five years earlier, Delgado said. He also sensed that the heightened targeting of immigrant communities had eased. So, the family moved back to Arizona in October of that year.
Stopping the sequel to SB1070
In 2017, as a student at Alhambra High School, Delgado found a place of belonging in Living United for Change in Arizona, a community group that advocates for immigrant and working class communities.
He is now a community organizer with LUCHA. A “loud” one, he said.
“I always bring me and my authenticity,” he said. “I always wanna have people share who they are, make sure they are at the forefront and at the table.”
Delgado was among the LUCHA members who were removed from a Senate hearing room Feb. 13 after Sen. Eddie Farnsworth cut public testimony short on one of the immigration enforcement measures.
Delgado said he was in bed Feb. 19, watching a LUCHA rally protesting the proposals.
“I broke down,” he said.
“I couldn’t stop crying, because I remembered those days that went by when I didn’t know what to do back in Texas,” Delgado said. “I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t feel part of anything. And I don’t want anybody to feel like that. I don’t want another kid to be taken away from their whole family to just survive.”
Now that the legislative measures were defeated, Delgado is glad this dark cloud won’t be looming over immigrant and minority communities in Arizona.
“That was a community and people-power fighting back,” he said. “We can’t say that was the legislators … (who) voted against it. It was a fight that the people fronted and that the community fronted, and it was our work that was able to make that possible.”