Hazing Arizona

By Bogado, Aura | Mother Jones, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

Hazing Arizona


Bogado, Aura, Mother Jones


GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL

Long before the state passed its anti-immigrant law, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was taking border enforcement into his own hands.

David de la Fuente might still be alive if his pal David Salazar hadn't been short on cash one day. Both men lived in Phoenix, where they'd settled after making their separate ways north from the Mexican farming village of Colonia Emilio Carranza many years earlier. Salazar and his family came across legally in 1974, while de la Fuente arrived during the 1990s, traversing the desert on foot to cross the border illegally near Nogales, Arizona. De la Fuente, a plumber, and Salazar, a delivery driver, eventually became good friends. Their families grew close, too, often spending weekends and holidays together.

But that all changed one morning in May 2009, when Salazar asked de la Fuente for a ride to the atm. They hopped into de la Fuente's green Nissan Maxima and drove to a nearby Wells Fargo. As they were about to turn into the parking lot, a Phoenix squad car driving behind them hit its flashers.

By Salazar's account, officer Matthew Prutch asked de la Fuente for a driver's license. When he produced a fake, Prutch had him step out of the car and handcuffed him. Salazar asked the officer whether he'd pulled them over because of their skin color; Prutch, he says, replied that he was just doing his job. (In his report, Prutch wrote that he ran the Nissan's plates while following the car and found no driver's license data associated with the registered owner. "He appeared to be a Hispanic male," Prutch added, "and under reasonable suspicion I believe [sic] the driver to be driving with no valid license.") Minutes later, another officer arrived and asked Salazar for his license, even though he hadn't been at the wheel. Prutch then delivered de la Fuente to the police station for booking. From there, the 35-year-old was taken to Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio's notorious Durango Jail, and charged with using a fake ID. A month later, he was dead.

Before SB 1070, the Arizona law that allows police officers to detain anyone they suspect might be in the country without papers, there was 287(g). That's a 1996 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act under which the feds can deputize state and local law enforcement to capture and detain undocumented immigrants. Some 71 agencies in 26 states operate under 287(g) agreements- Arpaio signed up in 2007.

The man who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" has long had a knack for drawing media attention-reviving chain gangs, for instance, and humiliating county inmates by forcing them to don pink underwear. He grew obsessed with illegal immigration in 2005, when the state's "coyote statute" took effect, making it a felony to smuggle people for profit anywhere in Arizona. As interpreted by then-county prosecutor Andrew Thomas, the law freed sheriff's deputies to round up undocumented immigrants-after all, hadn't these people conspired to smuggle themselves into Arizona? So Arpaio began sending out posses of citizens and lawmen to conduct immigration sweeps. "I'm not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico," he told the Washington Times. "I'll give them a free ride to my jail."

It was Arpaio's zeal that compelled me to spend five months on his home turf last year. I wanted to see firsthand how his tactics affected the Latino residents who make up 3 1 percent of the county's population. I heard story after storyfrom citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented residents alike-about encounters with deputies and cops determined to play Border Patrol. It got to the point where I raced home in a panic one morning after heading out for a jog without ID-what if a deputy, seeing a Latina running down the street, decided to haul me in?

Native Americans told me they were targeted because deputies mistook them for Latinos. Latinos told me of being stopped randomly on the street and shouted at-or worse-by officers demanding identification.

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