Negar Katirai

My husband and I moved to Tucson after becoming enamored with it three years ago. I am Iranian-American, and my husband is Mexican, and we felt welcome in Tucson. Most of all, we were excited about the city’s border culture and how its multiculturalism is expressed in the city’s commitment to welcoming immigrants and local organizations like Derechos Humanos.

Since Donald Trump won the presidency, I have been concerned about the future of our border town. Trump’s anti-immigrant policies could have a detrimental effect on Arizona’s economy. According to the Thunderbird School of International Management, Mexican tourists spend close to $1.6 billion in Arizona per year. The Mexican immigrant estimated tax contribution in Arizona was approximately $355.7 million in 2001. And Mexican immigrants generated a fiscal surplus estimated at $106 million in 2001.

What gives me hope is the alacrity with which many of my friends and neighbors have taken steps to stand up for our American values. Almost everyone I know is taking time out of their schedules to write to their representatives, attend meetings and educate themselves on topics such as the president’s powers with respect to immigration. This kind of community involvement is what is needed to preserve our democratic society.

Local community activism is particularly crucial at this moment because there are groups that are committed to a very different vision of America — one where immigrants are to be feared.

ACT for America is a national organization with local chapters that sponsors talks about Islam’s “dangers.” It is also designated as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Speakers like Ron Branstner spread misinformation such as the claim that Muslim immigrants are intent on establishing Sharia in the United States. Most alarmingly, the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy, which is also listed as an extremist group, has the ear of the president. In December 2015, then-candidate Trump cited a poll by the center when he first called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The president has now taken concrete steps to make that shutdown happen.

Those of us who believe in an inclusive America must actively combat this insidious myth-making about immigrants. We must form our own local groups and use social media and in-person conversation to bring people together across religions, ethnic backgrounds and birthplaces. We have to clean up after groups like ACT for America by holding our own town halls to debunk the falsehoods they sow. Even finding ways to help those who are less privileged than ourselves is in its own way a form of combating the other-phobia that is plaguing our communities.

There are many groups here that are forming these relationships across divides. The Tucson Muslim Community Center is hosting a monthly interfaith dinner. Keep Tucson Together organizes volunteers to help inform undocumented families of their rights. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is working on forming a chapter in Tucson.

All of us have demands on our time, and adding another thing can seem impossible. But so is a future where no one strays outside of their tribe.

The beauty of Tucson, of Arizona, and of America, lies in our richness, and the strength we gain from our diversity. Our unity across our many colors and creeds is what makes us stunning. But just like in marriage or any partnership, that richness and unity take constant effort. And just like in personal relationships, that effort is worth it and then some, because it reaps exponential rewards.

Negar Katirai is an Assistant Clinical Professor and the Director of the Community Law Group at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. She is a Tucson Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. Contact Negar at nkatirai@email.arizona.edu