Over the past year, Maria Espinoza, head of The Remembrance Project, has increased her profile and activities within the anti-immigrant movement. The Remembrance Project is based in Houston, Texas, where Espinoza resides. The group’s key initiative is the “Stolen Lives Quilt,” a “visual memorial to the memory of the victims who have been killed by illegal aliens.” The quilts that are part of the project contains pictures of those killed along with the date, location and alleged cause of death, as well as information about the person’s family. Despite Espinoza’s claim that she is standing up for Americans killed by undocumented immigrants, she and the activists and organizations she associates with demonize immigrants and provide a platform for bigotry.
Founded in 2009, the organization first gained notoriety in 2012, when Espinoza embarked on a 25-state tour with the Stolen Lives Quilt, visiting state capitals and meeting with politicians. In 2013, The Remembrance Project started “The National Day of Remembrance for Victims Killed by Illegal Aliens” campaign. The campaign focused on creating a “Stolen Lives Quilt” for each state and holding memorial events displaying the quilt with anti-immigrant activists in those states. Anti-immigrant activists displayed the quilt at the extreme anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform’s “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event in both in 2013 and 2014.
In May 2013, Espinoza and other anti-immigrant groups in Houston participated in a national press day event in opposition to immigration reform. Later in the year, in August 2013, Espinoza participated in an anti-immigrant town hall event in Richmond, Virginia, with Rep. Steve King (R-IA), one of the most outspoken immigration restrictionists in the House. King has consistently made statements demonizing immigrants and is closely tied to the anti-immigrant movement.
The next month, in September, Espinoza participated in a vigil for a 93-year-old woman allegedly murdered by an undocumented immigrant. FAIR organized the rally, and when asked about its purpose, FAIR Field Representative Susan Tully said their goal was to, “Highlight Martinez-Perez (the alleged killer) as the poster child of both the DREAM Act and amnesty.” In 2014, Espinoza continued to travel the country working closely with anti-immigrant groups. In January, she spoke at a Tea Party Fort Lauderdale event about immigration. Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), an active anti-immigrant group in the state, encouraged its members to attend the event. Also speaking at the event was Joyce Kaufman, an anti-immigrant radio host closely tied to anti-immigrant groups. In May, Espinoza traveled to Washington and Oregon to speak with anti-immigrant groups in the Pacific Northwest, including Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), a very active anti-immigrant group based in McMinnville.
Earlier, in April, she participated in FAIR’s “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event. Espinoza also participated in a “night watch” on the Texas/Mexico border conducted by the Texas Border Volunteers (TBV), an armed vigilante group that conducts regular patrols of the U.S./Mexico border. In March, Espinoza spoke at a Tea Party “Patriots Rally for Freedom” where she praised TBV for their efforts and read a letter from TBV to the crowd. During her speech, Espinoza claimed the attendees must “fight the oppression of this invasion.”
Espinoza has also worked with the more extreme groups within the anti-immigrant movement. In September 2013, she was a speaker at the Social Contract Press Writers Workshop. The Workshop is organized by The Social Contract Press (TSCP), an extreme anti-immigrant group run by racist John Tanton, the founder of the modern-day anti-immigrant movement. The workshop often attracts racist speakers and attendees including racist Peter Brimelow, the founder of the extreme anti-immigrant website VDARE. TSCP’s journal, The Social Contract (TSC), known for publishing the views of anti-immigrant extremist and white supremacists, dedicated its entire fall 2013 journal to the issue of “stolen lives.” The front cover of the “stolen lives” issue featured Espinoza pictured with white supremacist Wayne Lutton, the editor of TSC. The fall 2012 issue of TSC contained a piece from Espinoza. In the same issue, TSC also published articles from racists John Vinson, Rick Oltman and Peter Gemma.
Espinoza has also expressed bigoted views on social media. In November, 2013, when a student group at the University of Texas at Austin attempted to conduct a “catch an illegal immigrant” game on campus, Espinoza shared the story on her Facebook page, and stated, “Support these kids by liking and sharing their page!” A March 2014 Facebook post by Espinoza read, “Child molestation and rape are very numerous in this illegal alien demographic!”
Although Espinoza repeatedly emphasizes in her speeches that the families of individuals killed by undocumented immigrants need a voice, she uses the Stolen Lives Quilt to impact the immigration debate. The anti-immigrant movement sees Espinoza’s message as an important tool for stopping immigration reform. Her emphasis on criminal undocumented immigrants adds to the climate of fear that anti-immigrant groups try to create about allowing more immigrants into the country. The fact that anti-immigrant groups repeatedly invite Espinoza to participate in events indicates how much they value her message. In early May, 2014, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with Espinoza, which occurred on the same day as a meeting between Johnson and representatives of the three major anti-immigrant groups, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), FAIR and NumbersUSA. The meeting was indicative of Espinoza’s increasing importance within the anti-immigrant movement.