IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Judge dismisses 'birther' lawsuit against newly elected Arizona Latina, Raquel Terán

“I can't deny that this was a burden, having to prove my citizenship...When we see this type of harassment, we can't stand on the sidelines."
Image: Raquel Teran
Raquel TeranCourtesy Raquel Teran

Raquel Terán, who was elected to Arizona's legislature last week, won a battle against a woman who tried to stop her from taking office next year by challenging her U.S. citizenship in court.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed on Wednesday the lawsuit Alice Novoa filed just after Terán won her race for state legislator in the 30th Legislative District in Phoenix, where over 50 percent of the district's voting age population is Latino.

Novoa, who in the past has alleged that immigrants are planning a secret plot "to take back the Southwest" for Mexico, claimed in the lawsuit that Terán was not born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to take office.

“I can't deny that this was a burden, having to prove my citizenship, but we are going to be moving forward. At the end of the day, I’ll be able to be sworn in the Arizona Legislature on January 14th,” Terán told reporters outside the courthouse. “I now have the opportunity to work for my constituents from District 30, for better schools, better jobs, instead of focusing on a baseless lawsuit.”

In a subsequent phone call with NBC News, Terán said she thought the lawsuit was part of a larger pattern of discrimination that other Hispanics in the state have experienced.

"Kids are going through this type of harassment in their schools, [and] playgrounds, and workers have to go through this with their bosses," she said. "These are things you might experience as a candidate knocking on doors. Sometimes it's subtle, but sometimes it's as direct as this lawsuit challenging your status. It is important that we denounce this."

This was not the first time Novoa, who unsuccessfully ran for Arizona secretary of state as a Republican write-in candidate, sued Terán and challenged the state representative-elect's citizenship.

Novoa filed a lawsuit in 2012 when Terán ran for the same state office seat. The judge in the case also dismissed that lawsuit.

"I was born in Douglas, Arizona. The courts know it. I had gone through this before. I had to prove it to the same person and she knows it because she was also at the court," Terán said during a press conference in Phoenix last week when the lawsuit was filed.

The challenge to Terán's citizenship is similar to the questioning of Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship before, during and after his presidency, which was initially pushed by fringe groups but gained traction after it was promoted by now President Donald Trump. In her recently published memoir, former First Lady Michelle Obama said she would never forgive Trump for endangering her family by pushing this conspiracy theory.

“When we see this type of harassment, we can’t stand on the sidelines,” Terán said.

Terán ran on a progressive platform such as protecting women's reproductive rights, preserving the Affordable Care Act and investing more in public schools.

For over 12 years, Terán has been part of a group of community organizers and advocates that have worked to counter the state's recent history of hardline immigration policies.

She was part of the successful recall of Russell Pearce, who riled the anger of the Latino community with his sponsorship of the infamous “show me your papers” bill, SB1070. Since the recall, politicians have laid off the anti-immigrant legislation, Terán said.

"As the anti-immigrant sentiment and the attacks kept coming out of the state Legislature, people were starting to become more conscientious about us needing to participate,” Terán added.

Nicole Acevedo reported from New York and Stephen Nuño reported from Flagstaff, Arizona.