Wednesday, January 12, 2022
On the morning of Oct. 3, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema gave her students in an advanced fundraising class at Arizona State University a break. She stepped out of the classroom to go move her car to another location near the downtown Phoenix campus, but instead found a group of four activists waiting to talk to her.
As the four organizers recorded the confrontation on their phone, Sinema didn’t stop to listen to the activists, some of whom had shown up to her Phoenix office months earlier to ask to meet with her. Sinema ignored them and, instead of going to move her car as planned, she made her way to a nearby bathroom.
The move was intentional and calculated: Sinema told ASU police she intentionally went into the bathroom because she believed that recording someone inside a bathroom is a crime, Sgt. Katie Fuchtman wrote in a police report the Arizona Mirror obtained under the state’s public records law. The senator’s comments in it have not been reported on before now.
One of the activists, whose identity police couldn’t confirm, is an organizer with Living United for Change Arizona, a community organization that has mobilized working class and majority-Latino neighborhoods to vote. She told Sinema her name is Blanca in the video she filmed at the entrance of the bathroom. The video went viral. Some condemned the LUCHA organizers for recording the Democratic U.S. senator inside the bathroom. Others claimed Blanca should be deported.
After the incident, Sinema told police officers that she believed the activists had committed a crime by breaking a state law that bars surreptitious filming — the law she said prompted her to seek refuge in the bathroom. That law applies in cases where the victim is filmed while “urinating, defecating, dressing, undressing, nude” or engaged in a sexual act.
After an investigation, ASU police said they disagreed with Sinema. The agency announced on Oct. 20 that it recommended Maricopa County Attorney’s Office prosecutors charge four people with misdemeanors, but not for the felony of recording a person in a bathroom that Sinema told officers the activists committed and should be “held accountable” for.
But prosecutors returned the investigation back to police and requested more information on the case. ASU police are still investigating the case, ASU PD spokesman Adam Wolfe said on Jan. 11.
Three months after the incident, Sinema still believes the activists committed a crime, her office told the Mirror in an email.
If police or prosecutors were to agree with Sinema, Blanca, who has no immigration status, could face deportation.
The Mirror knows Blanca’s identity, but is not disclosing her full name because she fears for her safety.
Standing at the bathroom entrance, Blanca spoke to Sinema. Blanca talked about being brought to the country when she was 3. How her grandparents were deported in 2010 during the Senate Bill 1070 years in Arizona. How she was unable to attend her grandfather’s funeral because she can’t leave the country and be allowed back in. Why a pathway to citizenship was crucial to include in the Build Back Better proposal.
“There’s millions of undocumented people just like me who share the same story. Or even worse things that happen to them because of SB1070 and because of anti-immigrant legislation, and this is the opportunity to pass it right now and we need you to.
“We need to hold you accountable to what you told us you were going to pass when we knocked on doors for you. It’s not right,” Blanca said.
Blanca has temporary deferral from deportation and a two-year work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Those with DACA, also known as dreamers, are a low priority for deportation. But that protection could end with an arrest for a crime, even if the case is later dismissed.
“One of the ways to quickly lose DACA is to get arrested for any crime,” said Ruben Reyes, an immigration attorney. “Even without a conviction, simply the arrest record… may complicate the renewal case for DACA. That would open you up to removal by the government.”
Reyes explained that those who benefit from DACA, an Obama-era program implemented in 2012, are subject to the discretion of federal immigration officials.
“When you apply for DACA, you can have a misdemeanor on your record and still get DACA, but there is discretion that the government is going to use in deciding on whether or not you deserve it,” he said. “So, if that misdemeanor happened a long time ago… it’d be easy to argue they made the mistake, they’ve learned their lesson, and they’ve been productive members of society since then. It’s very different when they are actively engaging in conduct that leads to their arrest.”
Reyes said dreamers who engage in activism face significant risks because their future in the United States is in the hands of federal immigration agencies.
For over a decade, dreamers and other undocumented immigrants have “come out of the shadows” that their parents felt safer in and stepped into the public sphere, meeting with lawmakers in Phoenix and Washington, D.C, and, sometimes, protesting and engaging in civil disobedience to push elected leaders to reform immigration laws and provide them and their families permanence in the country.
Sinema spokesman John LaBombard said his boss told law enforcement she doesn’t want the activists to face “immigration-related consequences.”
“She expressed to law enforcement that she hopes no students would face immigration-related consequences as a result of this activity,” LaBombard said in an email.
The police report doesn’t say whether Sinema feared the activists would face immigration consequences, though Fuchtman did write that Sinema said she didn’t want the activists to have “their lives ruined.” However, she also told officers they need to be “held accountable” for their alleged crimes.
“Sinema cares about the students and does not want their lives ruined for a horrible mistake they made but agrees she wants them held accountable,” Fuchtman wrote in the report.
LaBombard didn’t respond to a question on what Sinema considers accountability in the context of a law enforcement investigation where she believes a felony was committed.
Reyes, the immigration attorney, said he isn’t convinced by Sinema’s position.
“I think she wants to be tough on crime, but also soft on immigrants — and to some extent, she’s not really convincing anyone,” he said. “In this particular issue, this is I think a consequence of making promises you didn’t keep to people who are desperate for a solution.”
Last year, a coalition of community groups in Arizona came together to push Sinema to commit to passing landmark immigration and election reform legislation by ending the Senate filibuster rule. The groups have felt ignored by their senator.
LUCHA is part of that coalition. The night before activists confronted Sinema outside the ASU classroom, LUCHA also protested outside a Phoenix fundraiser Sinema was hosting.
Alejandra Gomez and Tomas Robles, co-directors of LUCHA, said in an October statement following the backlash on the viral video that Sinema’s constituents have been “been ignored, dismissed, and antagonized.”
Police initially sought charges against three of the activists who entered the bathroom, with five counts for the felony for unlawful recording, which could result in over two years in prison, according to the police report.
ASU police also looked into charging the activists with four misdemeanor charges including criminal trespassing, harassment by communication, disorderly conduct and interference with the use of educational property. Those misdemeanors each carry sentences of up to four to six months in jail.
Besides Sinema, police identified four other victims, all women students in Sinema’s class who were in the bathroom at the time the confrontation happened. One told police she didn’t want to be part of what was happening, but felt forced to be a part of the incident. Another one told police she believed the activists were harassing Sinema, and she was shocked they did so inside a bathroom. Another student told police she felt violated for being filmed in the bathroom and that the video was posted online.
Sinema told police she felt intimidated and was scared for her class, according to the police report. She was escorted to her vehicle once the class ended.
Sinema’s class was taught on a Sunday morning on the second floor of the University Center at the downtown Phoenix campus. But the university building was not open to all students and those associated with the university that day: Only those students taking Sinema’s class could use their ASU ID cards to access the building. Some of the activists were ASU students; they tried scanning their cards to open the building, but failed, according to the police report.
ASU police used card scan logs to identify two of the activists as Arianna Reyes and Alexis Delgado Garcia.
Reyes used her ASU ID card to get into the neighboring Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication building, and asked a patrol officer to let her into the University Center. She told him she had left her laptop in the lobby. He opened the doors of the University Center for her, and returned to his post at the Cronkite building, according to the police report.
In the police report, officers said it’s unclear how one of the activists got into the University Center building. But she let Delgado Garcia and Blanca into the building. They met Reyes in the lobby, according to the police report.
The police found that the activists were in the building for less than 20 minutes.
Later that afternoon, ASU police saw several people who they believed were the activists involved in the morning incident walking near the downtown campus. They detained two women, including ASU student Sophia Marjanovic. She had stood in front of Sinema’s stall during the morning protest.
Marjanovic told Sinema she was a victim of human trafficking. On social media, Marjanovic said she identifies as a Native woman and “fell into human trafficking due to not having worker protections in the gig economy.” That’s why she wanted to tell Sinema to pass the Build Back Better Act, which – among many reforms on climate change, health care, education and housing – would strengthen the rights of workers trying to organize a union.
According to the report, ASU police detective Rustin Standage recommended MCAO charge three people – Marjanovic, Reyes and Delgado – with two misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and interference or disruption of an education institution. Each offense is considered a class 1 misdemeanor and could carry a sentence of about six months in jail.
It is unclear who the fourth person ASU police referred for charges was. Wolfe, the ASU police spokesman, did not clarify that discrepancy.
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