When I write about the Chicana/o community, it is more in the spirit of an examination of conscience than an indictment. Although I do not pretend to be member of any religious sect or group, it is a habit that I picked up after over twelve years of parochial schools. We were taught to examine our consciences daily and later to use a scholastic method of inquiry to test our assumptions.
Rolling Stone magazine has a must-read article about Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A small excerpt of his demonstration of his infamous “Tent City” is below:
Flanked by Arpaio’s two large body men, we pass through a series of jail yards, first for the women (where one of Arpaio’s deputies warns me, “Remember that you’re a married man – heh heh”), then for the male prisoners, who idle torpidly in the shade. Inside Arpaio’s jails, according to the federal lawsuit, guards refer to Latino inmates as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “stupid Mexicans” and “fucking Mexicans.” Female prisoners, the suit claims, were forced to sleep in their own menstrual blood; officers refused to respond to the inmates’ pleas because they were made in Spanish.
In the tents reserved for “the illegals,” I meet a young inmate originally from Chiapas, Mexico, who tells me through an interpreter that he’s been working in the U.S. since 1996. Many members of his immediate family are American citizens, but he now faces deportation over a drunk-driving charge. Other men chime in with similar tales. Arpaio steps inside and proudly holds up a digital thermometer to show me that it is 128 degrees inside the tent.
“There’s a lot of people here who did a lot of things wrong,” says an inmate who steps forward to confront Arpaio, in English. “But a lot of people were just working in peace and didn’t do nothing. Just leave those people alone.”
The man from Chiapas asks Arpaio, “You’re against us being here for work?” “No, not for work,” says Arpaio. “For being here illegally. Not for work. You’re here illegally and you’re fake.”
The whole article is troubling, but it makes a point that Sheriff Arpaio knows what gets you elected, and that is going after Mexicans. He doesn’t go after the rich white folks who hire those Mexicans in their houses or factories, because that would be political suicide, even though what they are doing is creating the demand that brings this cheap labor force into Arizona to begin with.
The article also focuses on a shift that took place just six years ago:
The sheriff is also the most powerful law-enforcement officer in rural and suburban areas, able to literally “make the law” by choosing which laws to enforce and which to ignore. Arpaio, in addition to his savvy media stunts, makes a point of calling himself a “constitutional” sheriff, emphasizing his lofty mandate to uphold the U.S. Constitution – a political dog whistle to states’ rights advocates and white supremacists who have a deep-seated hatred of the federal government.
Arpaio began focusing on illegal immigration about six years ago, after he watched an ambitious politician named Andrew Thomas get elected chief prosecutor of Maricopa County by promising to crack down on illegal immigrants. In 2006, shortly before the Department of Homeland Security empowered local law-enforcement agencies to act as an arm of the federal immigration effort, Arpaio created a Human Smuggling Unit – and used Thomas’ somewhat twisted interpretation of the law to focus not on busting coyotes and other smugglers, but on going after the smuggled.
The reason this stood out to me is because of a former Green politician turned Democrat turned anti-immigrant Blue Dog Democrat running for US Congress; Kyrsten Sinema.
Just last year she authored a bill with 9 Republican co-sponsors and zero Democratic sponsors, SB1225, that made the penalty worse for those involved in “human smuggling.” But keep in mind that the way the law is written, having any immigrant in your car, even if it is your wife or visiting family member or neighbor, automatically makes you a “human smuggler” under ARS 13-2319.
Read more on Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Arpaio, Andrew Thomas: Targeting the Mexicans for political gain…
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