Feathered Bastard

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Latest Victim: Yet Another Hispanic Mom in Estrella

I paid another visit to the sad hellhole of Estrella Jail last weekend to talk to one more target of Arpaio's ethnic cleansing raids: Alejandra Alvarez, a 31-year-old mother of four American children who was arrested during the MCSO's raid on Handyman Maintenance Inc. this February 11. She was one of the dozens of illegal aliens collared during the sheriff's bust of that Phoenix landscaping business, a business that ironically does work around Joe's jails as part of a multi-million dollar contract with Maricopa County.

"I used to pick up around this building," said Alvarez, handcuffed to a dingy desk in a visiting room full of dingy desks and women in stripes handcuffed to them. "I never thought I would be in a place like this."

Alvarez, who was booked into jail as Francisca Perez-Mendoza, speaks with great difficulty, holding her jaw from pain. The left side of her face sags slightly, as if she'd had a minor stroke. When she opens her mouth too wide, her jaw pops, and tears fill her eyes. Her neck is so stiff that she cannot turn her head completely.

She told me through an interpreter that she was working at HMI under the name Francisca Perez-Mendoza when sheriff's deputies, some of them in ski-masks, raided HMI, hunting for Hispanics here illegally. Alvarez said she hid under a cot on the property, but the deputies found her, pulling her out from under it. There were two of them, she explained. She alleges one of them swung her by her arm, slamming her face into the side of the wall, thus causing the injury to her jaw.

Once outside, she says the deputies ordered her against a wall with other workers being arrested. When she moved too slow, a deputy hit her hard against her left arm with the metal part of a clipboard.

"I could feel the pain all the way up through my neck," she recalls with a shudder. She shows me her left arm, the skin of which still seems bruised, almost two months after the fact. For the swelling of her arm, she says a nurse gave her Preperation H as an anti-inflammatory medication. The only painkiller she's had has been ibuprofen, which she has to purchase from the jail's canteen with money placed on her account by her family. She sleeps on her "good" side, but the pain is unavoidable.

Alvarez is being held without bond on five counts of forgery related to her working at HMI under a fake name. She was not afraid to give us her real name, she explained, because the MCSO already knows it. Still, she remains detained under what she says is her her phony name. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also placed an immigration hold on her under the name Francisca Perez-Mendoza.

Her account seems credible given the nature of Arpaio's gulags, and the harsh treatment of suspects by the MCSO, particularly in the case of Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez, whose arm was broken while she was in MCSO custody. Also, something is clearly wrong with her face, something that requires immediate medical attention. She has seen the nurse, and some x-rays have been done of her, she relates. But so far, all she''s gotten out of it is ibuprofen and Prep-H.

That a Mexican mom has been abused and is suffering in Joe's jails is par for the course these days. Add in four U.S.-born kids, ages six months to 11 years, now without their mother -- the six month old weened early because Alvarez was still nursing the baby boy when she was arrested -- and she could be any a legion of mothers ground up by a system geared to treat the undocumented like drug-runners or murderers. (Jail without bond is traditionally reserved for suspected killers.)

Alvarez said she's been questioned by MCSO deputies, and that in one case, they tape recorded what she had to say. They've also taken photographs of her injuries.She said they told her that they want her to give evidence against HMI. They have also warned her not to speak to anyone from the media, and that it would go badly for her if she did. They accused her of wanting the sue the MCSO.

"`You won't get a dime,'" she recalled a deputy telling her. "I told him I don't want any money. I just want to get out of here."

A member of the Mormon church, Alvarez has received assistence from her fellow congregants. They're helping her husband take care of her kids and with money. LDS member Henry Valencia told me he visited Alvarez in jail not long after she was arrested. He said the damage to her face was even more obvious then.

"It's really kind of a travesty," he stated. "Here's a young couple trying to provide for their family here in the U.S. What Arpaio is doing is criminal, in my opinion. He's rounding up innocent people."

HMI has not returned my call. Neither has Alvarez's criminal lawyer. However, Alvarez now has two other attorneys helping her: Danny Ortega; and immigration attorney Kevin Gibbons. Gibbons challenged now state Sen. Russel Pearce in the 2008 Republican primary.

I've asked for all documents related to Alvarez's arrest and detention from the MCSO. More when I get it.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons