Elizabeth Ruiz & Rick Covington: Vancouver, WA

Two unlikely friends who have fought deportation and led grassroots calls for immigration reform in Washington State

In March 2009, Elizabeth Ruiz was on her way to work when she was profiled and stopped by the police. They arrested her for “lying to a police officer” and “failure to pay the TRIMET train fare”. She was held incommunicado for three days without her family knowing what happened to her. After three days, she was turned over to ICE and transported in chains to the Tacoma, Washington Detention Center where she was held for two months.

Upon her release after posting a $2,000 bond, she was advised to remain silent, wait for her hearings and court appearances, and not get involved in the immigrant rights movement as it may hurt her efforts to remain in the country. However, Elizabeth could not remain silent and immediately became involved in One America Vancouver and began publicly telling her story from the day of her release until the present, she has fearlessly participated in rallies, spoken at forums and public-speaking events, lead Vancouver canvassing and voter registrations, and participated in telephone banks in the Seattle area. All this with the specter of her possible imminent deportation hearings.
Rick Covington is a 24-year retiree of the U.S. Navy who met Elizabeth in 2005 and became reacquainted with her when Rick moved to Vancouver. Rick was so moved by her unjust arrest and separation from her family that it brought him into the immigrant rights movement. He helped found the Vancouver branch of One America.

Together, Ruiz’s and Covington’s energy and passion for basic fairness started a chain reaction of organizing community groups throughout Washington State. The two have not missed a single community meeting. They have met with local political and media representatives, rallied locally and nationally, lead voter registration drives, canvassing efforts and phone banks. They have also coordinated candidate forums at churches, community forums on immigration issues and have confronted vicious anti-immigrant sentiment with positive information. They have become important leaders in Washington state’s immigration reform fight.

Ruiz did all this despite the risk her advocacy might have had on her immigration case and the increased possibility of deportation. Only recently did she receive legal permanent residency in the United States. Covington carried Elizabeth’s banner and story to Washington, DC, where he spoke at a Family Unity Rally.
On May 20, 2010, Covington and other activists, in an action of civil disobedience, blocked access to the downtown Seattle building housing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Courts. The first action did not result in any arrests, but Covington, who is 74 and not in great health, returned a month later determined to increase public attention to the immigration issue by getting arrested. Many of his fellow protesters told Covington that, with his diabetes and back problems, he should not feel obliged to stick with the protest. But he stayed and helped keep the entire group strong. He was eventually arrested. After his release, Covington had to undergo surgery and spent time in the hospital. His doctors told him he needed to take a break from his activities. But from his hospital bed, he continued to contact organizers at One America and was soon helping organizing actions.

Ruiz and Covington have consistently inspired immigrants rights advocates with their dedication, humor and heart. Both have led their community members in participating in marches and taking action in local communities. They have both taken risks – Ruiz risked deportation and Covington risked his health – to make positive changes for immigrants, locally and nationally. Together they personify unity, solidarity and commitment to justice for all.

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The Freedom From Fear Awards are produced by Public Interest Projects, (PIP).  PIP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together and strengthens the work of philanthropic institutions, donors, nonprofit groups and other public interest organizations sharing a vision of a society that ensures justice, dignity and opportunity for all people.   Statements and activities of Freedom from Fear Award winners do not necessarily reflect the views of PIP.

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