Newly elected Raquel Terán defiant as she faces a birther movement in Arizona
'When January comes I'm going to be right here," says U.S.-born Raquel Terán after her citizenship was questioned.
Democratic state legislator-elect Raquel Teran (center) hugs supporters at the Arizona Democratic Party Election Night Party at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. November 6, 2018.Lindsey Wasson / Reuters
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By Nicole Acevedo, Stephen Nuño-Pérez and Suzanne Gamboa
Raquel Terán, elected Tuesday to Arizona's legislature, vowed to fight an attempt to keep her from taking office through a challenge of her U.S. citizenship.
“I will not be intimidated by this harassment and really the psychological warfare designed to exclude people like me or the voices of the constituents I look forward to serving. When January comes, I’m going to be right here," Terán, who was born in Douglas, Arizona, said in an emotional press conference in Phoenix.
Terán was served with a lawsuit filed by Alice Novoa on Tuesday in the Maricopa County Superior Court asserting Terán was not born in the United States.
The challenge to Terán's citizenship is reminiscent of the questioning of Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship before, during and after his presidency.
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The false assertions that he was not born in the U.S. and so was ineligible to be president were pushed by initially by fringe groups but gained ground after being promoted by Donald Trump before Trump was elected president in 2016. Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
"This is just an extension of the birther movement," said Eduardo Vargas, an assistant professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
He noted that, according to reports, Michelle Obama says in her forthcoming memoir that she will never forgive Trump for endangering her family by pushing the conspiracy theory on Obama's citizenship.
"The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed," wrote Michelle Obama, the Post reported.
Terán won her race for state legislator in the 30th Legislative District in Phoenix, which spans from central Phoenix to the west side of Glendale. Over 50 percent of the district's voting age population is Latino. 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.
Terán is a supporter and activist on progressive policies such as protecting women's reproductive rights, preserving the Affordable Care Act and investing more in public schools.
Terán 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.
Carlos Garcia, who is running for Phoenix City Council, fears the attempts to use citizenship of people of color to win elections could spread and make it more difficult for Latinos and others to get elected.
"I am also running for office. I can see this happening to me," said Garcia who was born in Mexico and was undocumented as a child. He became a citizen as a teenager.
"How do you plan ahead?" Garcia asked. "It's an expectation, but all you can do is have the knowledge that this is a tactic they are going to use against you."
Nicole Acevedo is a staff reporter at NBC News Digital where she reports, writes and produces content for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com.
Stephen Nuño-Pérez is an NBC News contributor and political scientist. Stephen is an Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University.
Suzanne Gamboa is a national reporter for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com