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Are Your Papers in Order?

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.

Ski masks.

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.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey