Revolution #191, February 7, 2010

10,000 March for Immigrants’ Rights in Phoenix

(Updated February 2, 2010) On January 16 a very welcome and important demonstration brought at least 10,000 people from all around the country to Phoenix, Arizona (with some estimates as high as 20,000) in a national day of protest for human rights under the slogans “Stop the Hate!” “Stop Arpaio!” “Stop the Raids!” “Stop 287(g)” (a federal law that empowers local police and sheriffs to arrest people for immigration violations). Called for by the Puente Movement of Arizona, the march and rally was endorsed by a diversity of groups: dozens of prisoners, immigration and indigenous rights groups, interfaith coalitions from all over the country, including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration Reform, School of Americas Watch, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Stonewall Democrats of Arizona and the Progressive Democrats of Arizona and many more. A group of Latino Republicans marched. One protester wore a mask of “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio who has become a rallying figure for anti-immigrant hatred. The masked protester, complete with a big cigar in his mouth, carried a club and chased after other marchers.

Youth and families pushing baby strollers marched, holding signs over their heads that said “I am Human” and chanting “Arpaio! Racista! Tu eres terrorista!” [Arpaio! Racist! You are a terrorist!]  The march and rally included musicians Linda Ronstadt and Zack de la Rocha, Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farmworkers, and Mary Rose Wilcox, member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who, together with her fellow county supervisors, administrators and several judges, is facing a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by Arpaio over a budget feud.

At the end of the march, city police attacked. A policewoman charged her horse straight into the demonstrators, trampling two people. She aimed a pepper spray gun straight at the marchers and let loose a stream of gas. Small children were among those affected, including a 2-year-old with asthma who had to be treated by paramedics. Other police also gassed the crowd. The police surrounded, beat and arrested 5 youth and charged 4 of them with aggravated assault on a police officer.

“America’s Toughest Sheriff”

“Sheriff Joe” Arpaio likes to call himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” He has a long record of human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International. Just one example: In June 1997, an Amnesty International delegation visited Maricopa County, Arizona, where Arpaio became sheriff in 1992, to collect information on the treatment of inmates because of concern following allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners and the death of inmate Scott Norberg in Madison Street Jail on June 1, 1996, after he was placed in a restraint chair. (Read the AI report, Ill-Treatment of Inmates in Maricopa County JailsArizona at

In the 1990s Arizona’s prison system was seriously overcrowded. Arpaio’s solution was to use old army tents to build a tent city complex in the desert where, in the summer, temperatures sometimes reach 150 degrees. He brags that he saves money by feeding inmates only twice a day—and then giving them “green baloney.” He is especially fond of putting his “volunteer” chain gangs on public display for “educational purposes.” Example: prisoners shoveling dirt and breaking rocks under the hot sun in striped prison uniforms and chains—in downtown Phoenix. He also created the first women’s chain gang in the history of the country.

Over the period of 2004-2007, 2,150 lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court against “Sheriff Joe” and hundreds more were filed in Maricopa County. This is 50 times as many prison condition lawsuits as the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston jail systems combined.

A Point Man for Attacks on Immigrants

Starting in 1996, the build-up of Border Patrol between Mexico, California and Texas forced increasing numbers of people to cross the border into the deadly Arizona desert as they came to look for work in the U.S. This shift caused at least 5,600 deaths of immigrants traveling through the desert in the past 15 years, and probably many more. Most immigrants arriving in Arizona were just passing through on their way to California or Texas, but some did stay on, and Arizona’s immigrant population grew by almost one-third over the last decade.

In the early 90s, Arizona was the site of vigilante activities by ranchers whose land was a crossing point for immigrants. The ranchers, with the cooperation of the police, would capture and detain groups of immigrants and turn them over to the Border Patrol. They also advertised vacation hunting parties where KKK and Nazi types would gather on the ranch of Roger Barnett and go out terrorizing immigrants at night. These activities devolved into the Minuteman movement who were then legitimized and promoted by “moderate” Democrat governors like Janet Napolitano, then-governor of Arizona and Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, along with open reactionaries like Lou Dobbs.

It was in this climate that Arpaio became point man for the forces bent on whipping up hatred toward immigrants and hunting them down. In 2006, Arpaio began devoting most of his department’s resources to this effort.

Arpaio’s anti-immigrant sweeps are brutal. A 160-man deputized force and a volunteer “posse” whose members often wear black ski-masks patrol the roadways looking for suspected “illegals” and then arrest them for “traffic violations.” In 2007, Arpaio marched 200 Latino men dressed in striped prison uniforms with “unsentenced prisoner” prominently written on their chests. They had chains around their ankles and carried their belongings in bags. They were being moved from the Durango jail complex to a separate tent city for the undocumented, surrounded by electric wire. Arpaio “joked” in his daily press release page, “This is a population of criminals more adept perhaps at escape” … “But this is a fence they won’t want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock—literally.”

The Arizona Laboratory

Arizona has been called the “laboratory for new ways to crack down on illegal immigrants” by the Wall Street Journal. The Arizona legislature recently passed a law to sentence state workers to four years in prison if they encounter undocumented immigrants who utilize services and they do not report them. They also face arrest if they do not report a co-worker who knowingly serves undocumented persons.

Arizona was one of the first states to implement the 287(g)1 program which gives police and prison guards the power to act as U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents and conduct terrorizing sweeps, picking up immigrants and processing them for deportation. The program was officially started in 2005 by Janet Napolitano—now the Secretary of Homeland Security for the Obama administration—when she was governor of Arizona. As Arizona’s Mexican population grew, Napolitano helped to frame the issue as the “illegal immigrant as terrorist threat” and move it into the mainstream; and she stationed National Guard on the border for the supposed security of the people of Arizona. She contacted then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and argued Arizona should be granted 287(g) powers to detain traffic violators. “Local law enforcement officers often come into contact with large numbers of UDAs [undocumented aliens] during routine traffic or other law enforcement activities.”2

The Obama administration, saying that 287(g) has been revamped to focus on “illegals engaged in serious crime,” recently expanded the 287(g) program. But it cut Arpaio off from the street arrest portion of 287(g) and gave him federal authority only to use deputized prison guards to deport immigrants. While the New York Times said the government was clipping Arpaio’s wings, an Arizona state law passed when Janet Napolitano was governor allows immigrants to be arrested under an anti-smuggling law, so his exclusion from part of 287(g) has had no effect on his operations. The Arizona law states that police have the power to arrest human smugglers and those who aid them—and under this law, immigrants can be arrested for smuggling themselves, which is a felony. (See Revolution #123, “The Growing Nightmare in Arizona”)

But this is not the end of the story… there is much contention in the ranks of those who run this country over immigration and immigration policy, with powerful forces weighing in in different ways. Arpaio has become something of a flashpoint in the contention in the ruling class over immigration policy. 

In March of 2009, the House Judiciary Committee called for the Department of Justice to investigate Arpaio for racial profiling. Arpaio’s response? To blow off the federal government’s requests for producing documents. He stated he would not cooperate in the investigation. The federal government responded that “We hope that the Sheriff’s Office will change course and begin cooperating with the investigation.” In addition, a federal grand jury recently began an investigation of Arpaio and chief deputy David Henderschott for abuse of power, based on Arpaio’s repeated arrests and lawsuits against county officials who oppose him, which has angered part of the power structure in Arizona. There was recently a demonstration of 250 lawyers against Arpaio. Into the middle of this “adverse climate for Sheriff Joe” stepped John Morton, the national director of ICE, who visited Arizona and defended Arpaio’s approach, pointing out that local law enforcement “cannot turn a blind eye to people who are here illegally, even if they have no criminal record.”

In the past year, Arizona has also become a focal point for those who are fighting for immigrants rights. There have been at least two large protests in Phoenix, and now, the demonstration of 10,000 in January.

1. 287 (g) is a clause in the 1996 IRWA Act implemented under Bill Clinton which deputizes police as immigration officers so that they can conduct round ups.  The law was not put into effect until 2005 under Bush. [back]

2. Cited in Aarti Shahanai and Judith Greene, Local Democracy On Ice: Why State and Local Governments Have No Business in Federal Immigrant Law Enforcement. A Justice Strategies Report, February 2009. [back]


Correction: In the print edition, and in an earlier online version of this article, we reported that "Marcia Powell was mentally ill and given a two-year sentence in one of the county’s infamous Tent Cities. In May 2009 she was awaiting transfer to the mental health ward. Jailed in an open cage in 107 degree heat, from 11 am to nearly 3 pm, other inmates heard her pleading for water. No water was given to her and by the time the medical unit arrived she was comatose. She died the next day."

Marcia Powell did die because of abuse and neglect.  She was left in an outdoor cage for close to four hours in 107-degree heat at a state prison complex run by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) not run by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (Arpaio). The facility is located in Maricopa County. She was taken to a hospital unconscious. Going against proper procedure, when "next of kin could not be located" she was taken off life support systems and died shortly after midnight.

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