Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's forced march of illegal immigrants to Tent City has drawn a stunningly sharp rebuke from the Mexican government -- with a letter arriving at the county today and more action ordered by a Mexican Senate committee if the situation doesn't change.
In a forceful two-page letter sent to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Carlos Flores Vizcarra, the Phoenix-based consul general of Mexico, says that he's writing to "express the dismay and protest of the Mexican government regarding the treatment of citizens by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office." We've posted that letter here.
Vizcarra adds, "The highly publicized march of ethnic inmates was reminiscent of inhumane and barbaric practices that we thought were overcome in a civilized society."
The consulate didn't return a call seeking comment, but the letter appears to stem from a meeting earlier this month of Mexico's Senate Foreign Relations Committee for North America. That committee passed a four-part proposal regarding the "maltreatment of detained immigrants in Maricopa County," according to an (unofficial) translation that New Times commissioned of the committee hearing's official transcript.
According to our translation, the committee agreed to take the following actions:
* A "categorical" denouncement of the chaining of undocumented Mexican immigrants, as in the march to Tent City, calling it a "cruel and humiliating action ... against the dignity and the elemental rights of our fellow citizens."
* An exhortation to the Mexican consulate to express its views to the Arizona government, and particularly that of Maricopa County, condemning the practices and asking that future transfers of prisoners adhere to "international norms."
* A request that the Mexican executive branch take measures and design a strategy to protect the rights of Mexicans, "particularly in those cities of the United States where they promote openly racist legislation and behaviors."
* The creation of a special commission to deal with the situation of Mexican citizens detained in the U.S. jail system.
Later in the meeting, the proposal was amended slightly to hit the point home: If the consulate fails to get Arizona leaders to agree to some sort of change, members of the Mexican senate will come here themselves to meet with the governor and other officials.
Clearly, the proposal lit a fire under the consulate. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors today received several copies of the letter from Vizcarra, condemning the march and Arpaio's new policy of segregating illegal immigrants out in Tent City.
And as for that segregation ...
Despite Arpaio's claims that the prisoners include immigrants of all races, the Mexican Senate comittee suggests otherwise. Senators reported that the Mexican consulate visited the inmates in Tent City, and found that 230 of them were Mexican. Since Arpaio's official publicity has stated that "more than 200 immigrants" were transferred, the senators believe that means all of the chain gang moved to Tent City were, in fact, Mexican.
"We ask now," the proposal says, "Was this operation exclusively against Mexican nationals?"
Clearly, the Mexican senators aren't happy. Senator Alberto Villareal Garcia told the committee that "the scenes in the tents seem from a movie, when Jews came out of the concentration camps made by Hitler. It is basically degrading, and even though we have heard some have said that the treatment wasn't as inhumane as it could have been in a prison, the truth is that it is degrading..."
Said Senator Aureoles Conejo, "It looks like a contradiction, ladies and gentlemen, that only a week ago, we heard the words of President Obama about how immigrants should be treated in the United States. ... Nonetheless, that is not at the local level, when those responsible are the local police ..."
It will be interesting to see if the Mexican government's strong words finally get the federal government, Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, the county board of supervisors -- or, really anybody who could possibly reign in this county's Anti-Immigrant Sideshow -- to take Arpaio's actions seriously.
If this letter doesn't do it, frankly, it may be time to call in the United Nations.
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As Consul General Vizcarra writes, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners "specifically denote 'when the prisoners are being removed to or from an institution, they shall be exposed to public view as little as possible ...'"
The February 4 march to Tent City, Vizcarra writes, "is in clear violation of these minimum standards."
That's a really good point; after all, Arpaio called in the media to watch the march. He can hardly claim he was sheltering the prisoners from exposure.
The question is, is anyone listening?