Best Activist (2001)
When tempers flared last summer over an ad hoc day-labor site near Kingwood, one man stepped in to help broker talks between the immigrant workers, aggrieved business owners upset about the massing of men on their property, and Montgomery County sheriff's officials. That man was Benito Juárez, then-coordinator for the Houston Immigration and Refugee Coalition. His efforts contributed toward changing the tone from recrimination to one of constructive problem solving. For years, Juárez has been a fixture at rallies for the rights of immigrants and refugees. The 39-year-old Guatemala native might be found picketing the offices of the INS or fronting marches in Austin and Dallas. He played a key role in getting foreign-born people, including undocumented ones, to participate in the 2000 Census, helping to produce the largest response ever among Houston's immigrant community. This year, Juárez was named outreach specialist for Lee Brown's newly created Mayor's Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs. While the position may lower his profile at protests and rallies, Juárez welcomes the potential for greater access to local, state and national officials. "My commitment is for advancing the struggle for the respect of the rights of immigrants and refugees," the soft-spoken Juárez says. "I'm doing it in a different way, but the commitment is the same."