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Seeking Justice for Immigrants

Arizona activist Roberto Reveles fights for Hispanic undocumented immigrants' fair treatment

Roberto Reveles, Profile of the board president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Roberto Reveles, board president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. — Photo by: Blair Bunting

En español | “I’ve never been reluctant about pushing doors open,” says Roberto Reveles, 79. After 24 years as a top congressional staffer for five lawmakers and 12 years as vice president for a gold mining company, he’s pushing harder than ever. Two years ago, in his so-called retirement, he became the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona’s board president.

See also: The Harvest, documentary about child labor and migrant farmwork.

It’s mid-afternoon on another blistering summer day. Reveles is in his white SUV heading to a meeting in Phoenix with Democratic activists from Pinal County and the state’s Democratic Party director. He makes the 45-mile one-way drive often. Meeting details and participants may differ — sometimes it’s Republicans at the table — but not the theme: empowering the historically marginalized.

Today’s focus is a local sheriff who meeting attendees say is demonizing undocumented immigrants to further his political career. The issue of scapegoating Latino immigrants propels Reveles to action.

“What’s disappointing is how regressive we’ve become in Arizona and in other states with regard to the presence of immigrants among us,” says Reveles. “But I’m hopeful. I really see this as a moral challenge.”

It’s a challenge he embraces. In 2010, he helped plan boycotts aimed at pressuring Arizona businesses to oppose a new state law that enacted some of the most restrictive anti-immigrant policies in the nation’s history. (Some of the law’s provisions have been found unconstitutional, but the state is appealing those rulings.)

And in 2006 he led one of the largest marches in Arizona’s history, a protest against proposed federal legislation that would have, among other things, made it a felony to be an undocumented immigrant.

Undaunted by negative rhetoric and what he considers draconian legislation, Reveles continues spotlighting immigrants’ contributions in Arizona. He also sees parallels between those immigrants’ struggles and his own while growing up poor — the son of Mexican immigrants — in the small segregated mining town of Miami, Arizona.

Next: From a segregated school to a public service career in Washington, D.C.

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