Monday, October 17, 2011



Border Action's leader is leaving after long stint
Brady McCombs Arizona Daily Star |
Posted: Monday, October 17, 2011 12:01 am

After a decade at the helm of the Tucson-based Border Action Network
she helped establish, Jennifer Allen is moving on.
She will stay in Arizona and continue to advocate for border
communities and immigrants' rights, but her last day as executive
director of the organization is Nov. 4. Under her guidance, the
Border Action Network grew from an unknown organization with no
budget and a cast of volunteers to a nationally-known nonprofit with
seven paid staffers and a $500,000 budget.
"Her leadership has been visionary in terms of developing an
organization that has grown and changed and developed and transformed
at a pretty rapid rate," said Zoe Hammer, co-chair of the Border
Action Network board of directors and a longtime volunteer with the
Allen said she knew it was time to step down when she hit her 10th
anniversary in August. She decided long ago she did not want to
become one of the entrenched leaders she comes across in meetings who
are unwilling to take risks or forget the past.
"You throw out an idea and they say, 'Ahh, we tried that in 1973 and
it didn't work,' or 'That person is a bad person and they are not to
be trusted, and we can't ever work with them again,'" Allen said. "My
understanding of leadership is that it needs to change, and it should
never just be the same person."
In anticipation of an eventual departure, Allen and the staff have
been working over the last two years to create a more sustainable
structure that isn't as dependent on the founder, Allen said.
The Border Action Network plans to hire an interim director who will
run the nonprofit until a permanent executive director is hired,
hopefully within six months, Hammer said. It's possible the interim
director could stay permanently, but Hammer said they are seeking
leaders who specialize in being interim directors and know how to
bridge the gap from a charismatic founder to the next head of the
"We are not going to find another Jen, but I'm sure we can find a
person with their own strengths," Hammer said.
In January, Allen will begin a six-month stint as the interim
director of Arizona chapter of the Southern Border Communities
Coalition. Her task is to help members of the new coalition build the
infrastructure and capacity so it can take a larger leadership role
in border issues in the state, she said.
"We're really glad to still have her leadership in our movement,"
Hammer said.
As her expertise and stature grew, Allen became a frequent voice in
the media defending border communities, immigrant rights and
explaining what she saw as the pitfalls of the massive buildup of
Border Patrol agents, fencing and technology - a phenomenon she calls
"border militarization."
Allen excelled at bringing disparate social sectors together and
building coalitions, Hammer said. She was also instrumental in making
the organization an advocate for border communities and immigrants at
the Legislature. That's one of the accomplishments Allen said she is
most proud of.
"Without this work, SB 1070 would've passed years earlier and would
have been even worse," Allen said.
In reflecting back on her tenure, Allen considers the debate around
SB 1070 in 2010 to be the most challenging period.
"The overt hostility that emerged and the racial tension that emerged
in our state," Allen said. "Those were really ugly times."
Allen said she's proud of helping the organization transform into one
that learned how policies are made, who makes them and how to
influence them. She's also proud of the group's work standing up to
border vigilantes and white supremacist groups operating along the
She's most proud of establishing an organization formed largely upon
members who are here without documentation, something people said
wasn't possible when the organization was forming.
"While there may be fear, people still are willing to take the risks
that are necessary to assert their human rights and assert their
basic dignity," and "to work to try to make our communities better
for everybody," Allen said.
On StarNet: Read more about border-related issues in Brady McCombs'
blog, Border Boletín, at
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or

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