Elaine Sanchez understands Guadalupe, Arizona, as well as she understands her six children. She was born and raised in the village of 5,500 souls hard by the freeway and the conventional suburbs of Tempe and Phoenix.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio put Guadalupe on the nation's map during his anti-immigrant sweep last April.
It is Lent — in fact, a mere five days past Ash Wednesday. Already the Catholic community is deep in preparation for Easter Sunday. But more than piety grips Guadalupe. Elaine bounces Marcus, her toddler, on her knee and despairs of small-town gossip: "Everyone knows everyone here."
The 32-year-old lives in her childhood home. Tired nails, aged wood, and weary plasterboard make up the barest skin against the Sonoran Desert's heat and chill. Streetside, kids' clothing dries along the length of rickety chain-link. (Does anyone have more tops and bottoms than a 2-year-old?)
Nearby, two strapping sons sweep the dirt and rake. Their nascent facial hair cannot disguise a youngster's impulse to bound, or to punch a shoulder. Discovered leaping over a fence recently, they were questioned by law enforcement. Their explanation of their behavior was straightforward: hide-and-seek.
As the teenage boys tidy up, an unbalanced washing machine bangs against the outside of the home while, yards away in the back, an abandoned van squats.
The broken-down Dodge, fast becoming a rusting rumpus room, is the stuff of story in the Sanchez home, as well as in Guadalupe at large.
Tracked for nearly a mile by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies last May, when the Dodge still ran, Elaine became alarmed, and then terrified, as the lawmen followed closely without ever turning on their lights. Her anxiety surpassed anything associated with an ordinary ticket; her family had already exchanged tales about this sort of enforcement.
For more Joe Arpaio's abuses of power, see our special report section.
Elaine drove the van into her backyard. After banging on the back door and screaming for her own mother, she was wrestled to the ground by the sheriff's men. Sanchez's boys emerged from their home to find their mother flat in the dirt with a deputy's knee in her back as she was roughly handcuffed.
The light over her license plate was out.
This is not an unknown crime in Elaine's neighborhood.
Indeed, Elaine Sanchez was no stranger to the sheriff's deputies who'd wrangled with her on the ground; one of them later volunteered that he recognized her from an earlier visit.
Sanchez and her family believe they have been targeted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's men as part of the fallout from the lawman's infamous anti-immigrant sweep in Guadalupe.
And here's the rub: In spite of their last name, none of the Sanchezes is Mexican. None of them is in the United States illegally.
All members of the Sanchez family are Yaqui Indians. They are all American citizens. They are as legal as the sheriff's family.
They are, however, brown.
On March 4, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Mississippi) worried aloud that the 287(g) program — the enabling act that turns cops into immigration officers — was "using minor traffic violations instead of major crimes" to harass Hispanics.
Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has no idea.
The genteel concerns of an uninformed Mississippi legislator are so beside the point as to be quaint.
Motorists in Maricopa County are confronted today by deputies in ski masks, guns drawn.
The slightest pretext elicits the question: Are your papers in order?
With this article, we begin an occasional series to introduce the people swept up in this madness. The individuals you will meet in this installment are all Americans. But eventually, you will also shake hands with illegal aliens.
Neighbors, one and all.
Earlier skirmishes at Pruitt's furniture store and the sheriff's illegal alien sweeps on Thomas Road, as well as in Cave Creek, were only warm-up exercises. The thrust to turn immigration enforcement into a reign of terror reached critical mass on April 3, 2008, in Guadalupe, Arizona. Mounted horsemen, deputies in unmarked cars, and bulked-up lawmen with shaved heads faced off against villagers and protesters.
Sheriff Arpaio set up his massive command post in the parking lot of the Family Dollar store. Demonstrators, mostly Hispanic, ringed the parking lot chanting, holding signs, urging cars to honk. The glare from ubiquitous television lights competed with the flashing decks of squad cars.
Everywhere you looked, people, pedestrians, and drivers alike had been stopped. Are you a United States citizen? Is your car in perfect compliance with the minutiae of the state Motor Vehicle Division?
These are questions that play hell with the poor.
The massive two-day show of force — Arpaio said he employed 200 deputies and posse members — netted nine illegals.
And when the mayor of Guadalupe told Sheriff Joe Arpaio that he wasn't welcome to terrorize her neighbors, the lawman exploded in front of the media.
On April 3, Andrew Sanchez, Elaine's brother, drove friends and family right into the heart of history. Caught up in the moment, he honked his horn.
His show of support for the protest broke the law.
Like John the Baptist, Sanchez prepared the way for the sheriff; the night before the lawmen swooped into Guadalupe, Andrew ringed the town with signs warning the residents that Arpaio was coming.
On the day of the raid, Sanchez posted another hand-painted message: "If you are profiled or harassed, call me."
Andrew works as a resident program specialist at the Arizona State Hospital. More importantly, he has an automobile that functions. In a poor community, a man with a car is a busy fellow.
"Before the sun went below the mountains, people started gathering in anticipation of Arpaio," said Sanchez. "And people called me for rides to work. They were afraid to walk, afraid to drive themselves."
The daughter of a former elected official phoned. She'd been stopped while on foot and forced to produce identification. She asked Sanchez to take her to her home, where she had more anti-Arpaio signs.
"When we got to her house, she grabbed shoe polish," recalled Sanchez. "She wrote on my car window: 'Proud to be brown' and 'Go home, Arpaio.'"
After serving as an impromptu taxi driver, Sanchez picked up his sister Elaine, who was the swing-shift supervisor at Jack in the Box.
As they eased past the Family Dollar store and drove through Arpaio's "crime suppression," Sanchez tooted his horn.
He was promptly pulled over, and after producing registration, license, and proof of insurance, he was interrogated. Sanchez was ticketed for honking his horn. The lawmen commented upon the anti-Arpaio signs in his backseat and the greased windows asking the sheriff to leave Guadalupe.
Although a judge tossed the complaint, Sanchez believes strongly that Arpaio's deputies have targeted him and his family because he dared to speak out.
Later in April, on his way to a graduation party, Sanchez was pulled over once more, this time for a broken taillight.
Sanchez's brother-in-law, Manuel Valenzuela, borrowed Andrew's car in April to take his wife dinner where she works.
He operated the vehicle without a valid driver's license; when the deputies flashed their lights, he turned into his mother's yard instead of promptly pulling over.
Valenzuela claims the officers emerged from their car with guns drawn. They handcuffed and arrested Valenzuela.
He had driven Andrew's car with the high beams on.
Sanchez said that for all the officers knew, the person driving the car was Andrew himself. He is suspicious. His car was impounded, and the deputies made a number of calls to relatives announcing that they'd impounded Andrew's car.
That next month, on May 28, his sister Elaine was confronted in her own yard and arrested.
She was told that the light illuminating her license plate was out. But the officers who put her in jail never charged her with that offense. Indeed, as she drove south on Avenida del Yaqui, the deputies drove north, in the opposite direction. They had to make a U-turn to follow her.
They made the U-turn to follow her before they could see her rear license plate.
Elaine Sanchez was ordered to appear in court on July 1, 2008. A judge dismissed the disorderly conduct charge.
Sanchez and her kin believe that the deputies focused on her family to make a point: Political dissent does not change who runs Guadalupe.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs Guadalupe.
It is worth remembering that the mayor of Guadalupe's confrontation with Arpaio was on April 3, the first night of the immigration sweep.
The sheriff told the press that he'd been invited into Guadalupe by the village's administrators.
But on the night of the raid, Mayor Rebecca Jimenez handed Arpaio a press release calling for an end to the roundup. Guadalupe's leaders had not summoned the sheriff.
In front of rolling television cameras, Arpaio erupted.
"Forget the press release!" said the sheriff. "That doesn't matter. Action is what speaks . . . You said you didn't want us back here tomorrow. Is that what you said?"
"Yes," replied the mayor.
"Well, we will be back here tomorrow. Full force!"
Arpaio then threatened the mayor.
"If you don't like the way I operate, you go get your own police department," said the sheriff. "You've got 90 days to cancel your contract — 90 days. You wanna cancel it, feel free to."
Arpaio's troops did, indeed, return. The next day, his deputies circled the square during the confirmation ceremony of youngsters at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church. Families terrified of being swept up in the dragnet avoided the religious rite or sent their children with others.
Two weeks later, on April 18, Sheriff Arpaio made good on his threat to Mayor Jimenez. He notified Guadalupe that it had 180 days to "study and research the law enforcement needs of the community and explore other law enforcement alternatives.
"I want nothing to do with [Mayor Jimenez] and the little town of Guadalupe," said Arpaio.
In the weeks that followed, the impoverished community learned that it could not afford to hire either Phoenix or Tempe to patrol its streets; Guadalupe had to swallow its pride. Jimenez was forced out as mayor, in part, by council members offended that she had raised Arpaio's ire and potentially lost the town its police services. A new mayor was installed, and the village approached Arpaio on bended knee and asked that he return.
This vengeance by Sheriff Arpaio was hardly an isolated act.
In an April 3 press release announcing his Guadalupe roundup of illegal immigrants, the sheriff took the time to attack former legislator Alfredo Gutierrez, who had dared to criticize Arpaio on Radio Campesina.
In a recent interview, Gutierrez said the retaliation went beyond words.
Gutierrez said that when he emerged from Portland's, a bar and restaurant on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix, after his comments on the radio, he found Arpaio's plainclothes deputies waiting for him.
Gutierrez, who no longer drinks, had consumed nothing stronger than alcohol-free O'Doul's.
In any case, Sheriff Arpaio's men do not run sobriety checkpoints in downtown Phoenix, let alone stop individuals in this fashion.
Contacted by New Times, the Sheriff's Office did not respond when asked to comment on any of the claims made in this story except to say that the request for reaction "will be processed."
"It is just a fact of life," said Gutierrez. "Those of us who have spoken out are followed by Arpaio's men."
Andrew Sanchez, like Gutierrez, believes he is a target and that Arpaio is going after his family.
Arpaio's behavior during the April immigrant roundup garnered national attention and criticism from the New York Times, which noted in an editorial: "The Mayor of Guadalupe implored (Arpaio) to leave her community alone. State and county officials have pointed out that Sheriff Joe has ignored tens of thousands of outstanding criminal warrants while chasing day laborers and headlines."
This is not entirely accurate.
In fact, Arpaio's deputies found one warrant they could execute.
They served it on Elaine Sanchez's husband, Andrew Sanchez's brother-in-law, Manuel Valenzuela.
In January of this year, Valenzeula paid the $135 fine that resulted from the arrest by the Sheriff's Office last April.
One month later, on February 4, as he walked out of Soto's Store in Guadalupe, he was handcuffed and arrested on an outstanding warrant.
Manuel Valenzuela still owed 40 cents on the $135 ticket he'd paid off.
"In Guadalupe, you make a bad name in the town and everybody knows," explained Elaine Sanchez. "I've lived in the same home all my life. My aunt's next door, my uncle. You talk to someone who's not your husband, they assume something. It's like community policing. There's no point in introducing someone. There are no strangers."
Andrew Sanchez believes that is the problem. In such a tiny place, he and his family are known all too well to Sheriff Arpaio's deputies.
On a recent weekend, he drove past the village square. Inside the dusty field sits a Catholic church. Next door is a Yaqui temple. Residents nearby have erected three crosses in anticipation of Easter.
On Holy Thursday, a Yaqui ceremony will unfold. Chapayekas, "long-nosed" soldiers who search for Jesus throughout Lent, will seize an effigy of Christ. The fariseos will then re-enact the crucifixion. But the message of resurrection inspires hope, and the Yaqui know how to resist the authorities.
Deer dancers, caballeros, matachines, and pascolas intervene on behalf of the people. You hear their rattles.
Then . . . something wondrous!
The fariseos and chapayekas are pelted with flowers.
The miracle of Christ's passion grips Guadalupe.
But it is not quite Easter Sunday. Not yet.
Meanwhile, Andrew Sanchez has found his own way to resist authority every Saturday morning in front of the community garden. Little kids ladle out drinks and pass out fliers announcing that they are raising funds "to help people who cannot afford to repair any broken taillights or tag lights, broken windshields, etc."
Everyone knows these children. They're the Sanchez kids: brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews.
The Sanchez family refuses to endure in the barrio's shadows.
They fight back with lemonade.
On Tuesday, March 10, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department notified Sheriff Arpaio that he was under investigation for "patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures."
This response follows the call from four congressmen as well as the mayor of Phoenix for a federal probe into the sheriff's immigrant sweeps. One of those four congressmen, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan), has promised hearings on Arpaio's immigration sweeps soon.
Belligerent and defiant, Arpaio announced that he would not be intimidated. He vowed to fight in court and, if necessary, to drop out of the federal 287(g) program and use state laws to hunt down immigrants. In a county that rejected Barack Obama and re-elected Joe Arpaio for the fifth time, the sheriff's posture palpitated with rabble-rousing indignation.
You'll have to excuse Huey Long's envy.
Crimson petals and lemonade, prayer and passive resistance — all have withered before Arpaio's reflexive sneer.
A new question is upon us:
Will subpoenas wipe the rictus of contempt for the Constitution from the sheriff's face, or is it Miller time for Mussolini?