Born in Tucson, Arizona in February 1948, Raul Grijalva attended the University of Arizona where he joined the campus chapter of the radical Chicano organization MEChA. His young adulthood coincided with the peak of “El Movimiento,” the Chicano civil-rights movement that imbued him with what he later described as “anger” over how his public-school education had “made [me] feel I wanted to be an Anglo.” Grijalva also became a leader of the Raza Unida Party in Arizona. During this period as well, Grijalva wrote for the Movimiento newspaper Coraje!—a Spanish word meaning both “Courage” and “Anger”—whose front page bore the image of a clenched-fisted Chicano saying “My race first” and the motto “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” In 1969 Grijalva contributed to this publication a poem condemning white racism’s “clammy hand of hate.” In 1970 Grijalva helped lead a confrontational campaign that successfully intimidated Tucson’s City Council into authorizing the construction of a “people’s park” and community center on a plot of land that was part of a public golf course in a mostly Mexican-American neighborhood.
After losing his 1972 bid for a seat on the Tucson Unified School Board, Grijalva studied the activism of Saul Alinsky and came to understand that his own unfiltered militancy was likely alienating some members of his local community. Thus he began to cultivate a more mainstream approach that included outreach to non-Hispanics, and in 1974 he was elected to the school board where he would serve for the next 12 years. In 1987 Grijalva was named Assistant Dean for Hispanic Affairs at the University of Arizona, a post he continues to hold. And from 1989-2002 he was a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
In the early 1990s, Arizona Communist Party USA (CPUSA) chair Lorenzo Torrez emphasized the importance of electing like-minded Latinos to political office in that state. As fellow party member Steve Valencia later noted: “I always say: Before Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva, there was Lorenzo Torrez…. Lorenzo told us it is time for these majority Latino districts to be represented by a Mexican American. He wanted voters to see a Latino name on the ballot.” According to the CPUSA publication People’s World: “When Pastor declared his candidacy [in 1991], Torrez rallied the Tucson [Communist Party] club to join in the effort. Pastor’s victory in 1991 set the stage for Grijalva’s election in 2002.”
In 1993 Grijalva wrote an anti-NAFTA article titled “North America Needs ‘Fair’ Trade” for the November 13 edition of the CPUSA publication People’s Weekly World.
Bolstered by support from organized labor and the Sierra Club, Grijalva in 2002 was elected, as a Democrat, to Arizona’s newly formed, carefully gerrymandered Seventh Congressional District, whose population was more than half Hispanic and two-thirds Democrat. He has been re-elected to Congress every two years since then, though after the 2010 census his District was renumbered as the Third and became even more heavily Democratic than its predecessor.
The September 21, 2002 issue of the CPUSA newspaper Peoples World carried an article titled “People Gain in Arizona Primaries,” which focused mostly on the importance of the “long-time progressive” Grijalva’s victory in the recent Democratic Party primary. “The Grijalva campaign was a textbook example of how to conduct a peoples’ campaign,” said the piece. After Grijalva’s victory in the general election that November, Peoples World ran a follow-up article titled “People’s Campaign Is a Winning Strategy.” The piece lauded Grijalva for his “uncompromising support for working people, for better schools, against racism, and as a lifelong environmentalist.” Two months later, at a January 2003 meeting of the CPUSA’s National Board in South Chicago, an Arizona AFSCME activist stated happily: “Using street heat tactics, all of labor worked to back one candidate, Raul Grijalva, in Tucson … And we won!”
In one of his first speeches as a House member, Grijalva called for the creation of a national holiday to honor Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America.
In December 2004 Grijalva joined fellow lawmakers Barbara Boxer, Dennis Kucinich, and Henry Waxman in providing diplomatic courtesy letters to a contingent of anti-Iraq War activists (including Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans) who sought to bring $600,000 in cash and humanitarian aid to residents of Fallujah, Iraq, which at that time was a hotbed of terrorism and violence. The trip was sponsored by such groups as Code Pink, Global Exchange, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, United for Peace and Justice, and Voices in the Wilderness.
In 2005 Grijalva became a member of the Out-of-Iraq Congressional Caucus. That same year, he joined Xavier Becerra and Luis Gutierrez in backing the efforts of Latinos for Peace, an anti-Iraq War front group for the CPUSA.
In 2007 Grijalva was one of 90 Members of Congress who signed a “Peace Pledge Coalition” letter telling to President George W. Bush: “We will only support appropriating funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.”
In August 2008 Grijalva was named to the Barack Obama presidential campaign’s National Latino Advisory Council, along with such notables as labor leader Eliseo Medina and U.S. Representatives Xavier Becerra, Luis Gutierrez, Linda Sanchez, Hilda Solis, and Nydia Velazquez.
When the House of Representatives voted by a 345-75 margin to defund the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN in September 2009, Pallone was one of the 75—all Democrats—who voted to continue funding the group.
Throughout his years in Congress, Grijalva has been best known for his positions on immigration. Describing America’s existing immigration laws as “cruel” and “unjust,” he seeks not only to increase future legal entry into the United States, but also to help pass “comprehensive” reform that would legalize the status of those already residing in the country unlawfully.
Moreover, Grijalva is a longtime advocate of the DREAM Act, legislation that would enable illegals who first came to the U.S. as minors to access federal and state financial aid for their post-secondary education; to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents; and to earn conditional permanent residency and a path to citizenship.
Grijalva condemns, as “racist[s]” and “cockroaches,” the members of armed civilian groups (like the Minuteman Project) that monitor the Mexican border to detect illegal crossers and report them to the Border Patrol. By contrast, he characterizes illegal aliens as “economic refugees” whose human dignity is violated by policies that restrict immigration in any way. “I don’t care how many fences you build, from one end of the border to the other,’’ Grijalva says. “The essential issue and pull that people feel to feed their families and to sustain themselves is ongoing and will continue.” Moreover, the congressman has proposed legislation that would require the Border Patrol to consult with federal land managers and tribal governments in order to ensure that its border-enforcement practices do no harm to the environment.
When Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano in 2006 called for an increased National Guard presence along the Mexican border to stem the illegal immigration and drug trafficking that was causing high levels of violence in her state, Grijalva complained that “Anglo-Saxon men make the strategy for her.”
In 2007 Grijalva told a group of immigration-reform advocates: “In a perfect, perfect world we’d have an open border, but … with immigration we have to deal with reality”—meaning that in the pursuit of sweeping reforms, some concessions and compromises would be unavoidable.
In the spring of 2009 Grijalva denounced Pima County, Arizona sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who had recently cited illegal immigration as the principal cause of South Tucson’s escalating rates of crime, poverty, school failure, and gang-related activities. “To make a categorical statement that all the crime and the dysfunction in Tucson and Pima County emanates from one part of the community,” said Grijalva, “is outrageous and it’s stereotypical and … creates racial tension where they shouldn’t be.”
In Grijalva’s calculus, the major “root problems” that had led to illegal immigration included “how the Mexican economy has suffered after NAFTA, [and] the historic patterns of migration that have been changed by U.S. policy.”
Grijalva has also been outspoken on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations. On December 22, 2009, he was one of 33 U.S. Representatives who signed a letter to Hillary Clinton that (a) called on the Secretary of State to pressure the Israeli government to end its ban on Palestinian students’ travel from Gaza to the West Bank, and (b) “applaud[ed]” Mrs. Clinton’s “efforts to … increase U.S. funding for Palestinian universities and educational programs in Gaza and the West Bank.”
On January 27, 2010, Grijalva was one of 54 members of Congress who signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to use diplomatic pressure to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza—a blockade which had been imposed in order to prevent the importation of weaponry from Iran and Syria.
That same year, Grijalva received a Center for Community Change Award as one “of our nation’s top community leaders for advancing the cause of social justice, with a particular impact on the lives of low-income people and people of color.”
In 2010 as well, Grijalva vehemently opposed SB-1070, a newly enacted Arizona law authorizing state police to check the immigration status of criminals suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. He called for the law’s “repeal” as a way to “strike a blow against racism and [to] change Arizona’s legislature.” On May 29, 2010, Grijalva participated in a march protesting SB-1070. Fellow demonstrators included SEIU official Eliseo Medina, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.
Grijalva also advocated “a targeted ban on conventions and conferences in the state [of Arizona] for a limited time.” When a news reporter asked Grijalva if he was in favor of sealing the U.S.-Mexican border against the inflow of illegal drugs, the congressman angrily walked away while calling the reporter “punkish” for having asked the question.
In November 2010, Grijalva and 15 other congressional Democrats met—either personally or through their respective staffers—with three supporters of the Marxist-Leninist Freedom Road Socialist Organization/FightBack (FRSO/FB). Those FRSO/FB supporters, representing the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, expressed their condemnation of “the FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas of people doing international solidarity work and anti-war organizing.” It was reported that Grijalva and his 15 colleagues in Congress expressed “genuine concern” about the situation.
At the Institute for Policy Studies‘ (IPS) annual award ceremony at the National Press Club on October 12, 2011, Grijalva presented IPS’s International Award to a Mexico-based organization named Bethlehem, The Migrant’s Shelter. The IPS gives these awards to groups and individuals it considers to be “heroes of the progressive movement.”
At a December 13, 2011 news conference in D.C., Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison introduced their Restore the American Dream for the 99 Percent Act, which proposed to use many billions of taxpayer dollars to create “over 5 million” government-funded jobs and training programs in such realms as infrastructure, transportation, conservation, and early childhood development.
In early 2013, Grijalva and a number of fellow elected officials and activists—most of whom were aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America—drafted a proposal urging President Barack Obama to award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late Fred Ross Sr., a radical who had been trained by Saul Alinsky and had served as a mentor to both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
In May 2013, Grijalva was one of 59 House Representatives who called on President Obama to liberalize the regulations governing Americans’ travels to Cuba.
On October 8, 2013, Grijalva was one of eight House Democrats arrested for intentionally blocking rush-hour traffic in Washington, D.C. during an immigration rally aimed at persuading Congress to pass legislation allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Also arrested were Representatives Joseph Crowley, Keith Ellison, Al Green, Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, and Jan Schakowsky.
In an August 2014 interview with MSNBC, Grijalva said that President Obama should use an executive order to grant amnesty to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants already residing in the United States in order to “quell some of the unrest” caused by the “racial overtones” of anti-immigration rhetoric. He added:
“The issue of immigration that for a while was sanitized. We just talked about immigration as a federal policy that needed to be reformed. What has happened is that more and more of the rhetoric has racial undertones and overtones and in many parts of our community, for those people of color, in particular, Latinos that are fourth, fifth generation, they see this as a civil rights issue in terms of who is being demeaned and demonized by the Steve Kings [Republican Congressman] of the world on the air. So the overtones countinue to grow, the anxiety continues to grow, and I think administrative relief now would allow communities to have the kinda real dialogue in their communities away from the rhetoric, and I hope the president can help deal with that.”
In early 2015, Grijalva—as the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources—sent letters to the presidents of seven universities, asking for detailed records on the funding sources of affiliated researchers who rejected the notion that human industrial activity and its greenhouse-gas emissions contribute significantly to global warming. He cited concerns over whether the aforementioned researchers may have adopted their stated position solely to satisfy the wishes of their financial backers. In response to Grijalva’s inquiry, the American Meteorological Society—a scientific and professional society representing atmospheric and oceanic scientists—objected: “Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources—and thereby questioning their scientific integrity—sends a chilling message to all academic researchers.”
Also in early 2015, Grijalva objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his strong opposition to the negotiated deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. To protest Boehner’s decision, Grijalva decided to boycott Netanyahu’s March 3rd speech.
In April 2015, Grijalva attended a closed-door meeting that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held at his mayoral residence to create his “Progressive Agenda” aimed at addressing the problem of “income inequality.” Other attendees included such notables Jonathan Soros, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Van Jones, Marian Wright Edelman, Sherrod Brown, economist Joseph Stiglitz, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, and novelist Toni Morrison. When the Progressive Agenda was signed the following month, Grijalva was one of the signatories.
In May 2015, Grijalva was one of 16 House Democrats who signed a letter calling on President Obama to withdraw sanctions against seven Venezuelan government officials whom Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had recently accused of plotting a coup against him. The other signers were: Hank Johnson, John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison, Jose Serrano, Sam Farr, Karen Bass, Jan Schakowsky, Jim McDermott, Bobby Rush, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Mike Capuano, Charles Rangel, Chellie Pingree, and Earl Blumenauer.
In June 2015, Grijalva presented CPUSA activist and high-school social studies teacher, open-borders advocate, and MECha supporter Ray Siqueiros with an award in honor of his work.
In 2015 as well, Grijalva co-sponsored House Resolution 569, which was introduced by Rep. Don Beyer and was titled “Condemning Violence, Bigotry, and Hateful Rhetoric Towards Muslims in the United States.” Founded upon unsourced claims that America was experiencing a “rise of hateful and anti-Muslim speech, violence, and cultural ignorance,” this Resolution denounced the “disproportionate targeting” of “Muslim women who wear hijabs, headscarves, or other religious articles of clothing.”
In 2016, Grijalva’s re-election campaign was endorsed by Our Revolution, an organization run by former workers and supporters of socialist Bernie Sanders‘s failed presidential campaign of that same year.
Grijalva was one of dozens of Congressional Democrats who elected to boycott the January 20, 2017 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. To view a complete list of those who chose to boycott the event, click here.
In November 2017, the Washington Times reported that Grijalva had “quietly arranged a ‘severance package’ in 2015 for one of his top staffers who threatened a lawsuit claiming the Arizona Democrat was frequently drunk and created a hostile workplace environment.” The amount of the severance was $48,395, equivalent to five months’ salary for the staffer, and was paid out with public funds by the House Employment Counsel.
In 2019, H RES 246, a House Resolution condemning the Hamas-linked Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (BDS) movement, passed easily by a margin of 398 to 17. Grijalva was one of the 17 representatives — all Democrats — who voted against it. The other 16 “No” votes were: Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Earl Blumenauer, Andre Carson, Debbie Dingell, Betty McCollum, Mark Pocan, Chellie Pingree, Pramila Jayapal, Sylvia Garcia, Barbara Lee, Bobby Rush, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Thomas Massie. Those who chose to be noncommital and vote “present” on the Resolution were Karen Bass, Hank Johnson, Jared Huffman, and Danny Davis.
Over the years, Grijalva has been a board member of such entities as the Center for Progressive Leadership, the Hispanic Family Literacy Institute, the Mexican American Studies and Research Center, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the National Center for Interpretation, ProgressiveCongress.org, the Progressive Democrats of America, and the Progressive Kick Committee.
Leading contributors to, and supporters of, Grijalva’s political campaigns over the years have been the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), the AFSCME, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, the American Federation of Teachers, UNITE Here!, J Street, Progressive Democrats of America, Justice Democrats, 21st Century Democrats, and Peace Action.
For an overview of Grijalva’s voting record on key issues during his years in Congress, click here.
Further Reading: “Raul Grijalva: From Chicano Radical to Congressman” (Center for Immigration Studies, 10-17-2009); “Raul Grijalva” (Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org).