The next time you see Rep. Russell Pearce on television, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of Frank Alvarez standing nearby. Alvarez’s proximity to Pearce, R-Mesa, is no accident.
The Mexican-American wants to be sure that viewers notice his jet black hair and olive complexion.
He wants his presence to make a clear point: There are Hispanics like him who support Pearce and share the Mesa lawmaker’s tough stance on immigration.
The 45-year-old cannot vote for Pearce because he resides in Phoenix. But when Pearce came under fire earlier this year after voicing support for the 1950s’ “Operation Wetback” deportation program on a local radio station, Alvarez could not sit still.
He picked up the phone, called Pearce’s office, and volunteered to help with Pearce’s re-election campaign.
“I decided I was going to get out there. I was going to put my face out there and I was going to put it to good use,” Alvarez said. “I knew a lie was being told. ... There are so many of us (Latinos) out there who just remain in the shadows and go to the polls and vote. I thought I will lend my skin tone and my ethnicity toward this issue.”
On Election Day, Alvarez stood outside a polling place in Mesa, passing out literature on Pearce’s campaign. Most recently, Alvarez was a co-host for Pearce’s first political fundraiser, held in Phoenix last week. He also plans to make an appearance at Pearce’s upcoming swearing-in ceremony.
“In general, people assume that if you are Hispanic, you are a Democrat. You vote with the Democratic Party. You are probably in favor of more immigration or in favor of illegal immigration,” Alvarez said. “There is a stereotype that I don’t agree with.”
But Alvarez’s public support of Pearce doesn’t stop there. He wants other Hispanics who share his tough stance on immigration to come forward. To accomplish that, he’s helping form two new organizations specifically for American Hispanics.
The first group is a political action committee, Liberty on the March, a statewide fundraising arm with “conservative ideals and issues” that focuses on “the sovereignty of our nation’s borders” and other immigration issues. Membership will be open to all legal residents, but its target market is Hispanic Americans.
Alvarez also is one of 10 people helping to launch a Phoenix chapter of You Don’t Speak for Me, a coalition formed through the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform. This group, which also focuses on Hispanic Americans, is seeking stronger immigration enforcement. The local chapter held its first meeting last month, but the group plans to officially announce its formation this January.
Alvarez says there are many other Hispanic Americans who share his views on immigration. As proof, he points to the exit poll results from the Nov. 7 election.
In several surveys, pollsters found that many Arizona Hispanics continued a past trend of supporting anti-illegal immigration propositions. Alvarez hopes these groups will help counter the efforts of the pro-immigration movement in Arizona led by organizations such as Somos America.
“I intend to create a fire brigade to go where needed, when needed, to counter the other side,” he said.
Willa Key, who campaigned for Proposition 200 two years ago and organized the recent fundraiser for Pearce, said she thinks Alvarez has great potential to be a leader on the immigration issue. She sees Alvarez’s attempt to form new organizations as a step toward opening dialogue.
“If there is a group of people in the community that has things to say and maybe they don’t feel comfortable saying it alone, it would be very nice ... to be able to bring them together,” Key said.
Pearce didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.
Alvarez has not always been such an active Republican. He was actually raised in a family that leaned Democrat until an uncle eventually persuaded him to become a Republican and vote for Ronald Reagan for president. At home, his family didn’t teach him Spanish. He eventually learned it himself.
Alvarez believes in employer sanctions and what he calls a “physical delineation” on the border, but he did not always feel so strongly about immigration. Those feelings surfaced back in 2000 during a conversation with two of his wife’s friends who are living in Arizona illegally. Alvarez said the man told him a story about how he had been pulled over for driving under the influence and police found the man did not have a license.
“He made a comment, and he was laughing when he said it,” Alvarez said. “He said, ‘Don’t you know no one ever gets ahead playing by the rules?’”
Alvarez’s wife, Monica, a native Mexican, said she agrees with her husband’s beliefs.
Reflecting on the transition which she shared with her son, Monica Alvarez said the process for becoming a legal resident was tedious and difficult. The issue makes her feel torn because she loves her fellow Mexicans, but she does not agree with those who cross the border illegally.
“When we arrived to this country, we had to learn English,” she said in Spanish. “Why don’t other Latinos do the same thing? Why don’t they learn English and show ... that we want to be here?”