Editor's note: This is one of a group of individual accounts of racial profiling by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's forces.
Rosa is a thin, elegant woman who works as a legal secretary to a well-known immigration lawyer in the Valley. She hails from an upper-middle-class family in Mexico. Her mother is a lawyer. Her father's a doctor and former politician. She practiced law in Mexico and studied English in New York with an eye toward pursuing a master's degree in international law in Spain.
Love intervened, however. Rosa, 33, met her husband, "a white boy," she calls him, while in New York. Eventually they married and moved to Phoenix so he could get his master's degree at ASU. He makes a living as a financial adviser for a large firm. Last year, he gave her a new BMW for her birthday. They own a house in an Anglo neighborhood, where she's the only Hispanic on the street.
Rosa's husband is a U.S. citizen. She's a legal permanent resident, on her way to becoming a citizen herself. She plans to raise a family and go back to school. But she's thinking twice about doing either in Arizona after her run-in with two sheriff's deputies a couple of months ago. Indeed, Rosa remains so fearful that she didn't want her real name used for this article.
For more stories in the "Are Your Papers in Order" series, visit this special report page.
"I have a lot of things to lose," said Rosa, seated catlike on a chair in her office. "I don't want to put myself or my husband in any kind of situation where we might have the slight chance to have problems. Or not have piece of mind."
Rosa was racially profiled by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office while driving home from a friend's house in Fountain Hills, the town where Sheriff Joe Arpaio lives. Her friend's little girl had just turned 1, which was the cause for the party she'd attended. Rosa was dressed to the nines, wearing sunglasses against the afternoon sun, and chewing gum — activities that would not normally draw the attention of law enforcement.
A couple of minutes into her drive, a sheriff's car began following her. Rosa wondered what was up but drove carefully and at the speed limit. The deputies in the car finally hit the lights and pulled her over. She knew something was weird when two hulking figures approached, one on either side of her vehicle. The one on the driver's side had his hand on his holster, keeping it there almost the entire time he talked to her.
"So I roll down my window," said Rosa, "and he goes, 'Can I see your documents?' I'm like, 'Oh, sure,' and I grab my purse. I grab my driver's license, and my registration card. I hand them to the guy, and he says, 'No, can I see your documents?'"
"I said, 'What do you mean, my documents?'" she recalled.
"He said, 'You know, your [immigration] documents.'"
"I said, 'No you can't, you're not ICE.' And I hand him one of my business cards. It doesn't say my name, it has my boss' name. I said, 'I work for an immigration law firm. I know you cannot ask me this.'"
Rosa demanded to know why he stopped her. He insisted she'd been drinking. She knew she had not, so she asked him how he'd deduced this. He told her that it was because she was wearing sunglasses and chewing gum.
"I said, 'Yes, I cannot see, the sun is on my face, and I'm chewing gum because I just ate at a party.' By that time I was shaking. My voice was shaking. I was very nervous. I'm thinking these two guys can do anything to me, and nobody's even going to know. Nobody was driving past, nothing."
The deputy asked why she was nervous. She shot back that it was because they were two big guys, and that he had his hand on his gun.
The deputies took her license and registration back to their car and ran it. As the registration was in her husband's name, she surmised that they'd figured out she was married to an Anglo. The deputies returned, the one with the gun fixation gave Rosa her license and registration back.
"You have to understand," he advised her, "that my people have to make sure your people are not hiding bodies in your trunk."
"I'm like, 'Wow,'" she thought. "And then he goes, 'It looks like you are one of the few that knew how to make it in this country. Because just look at your car, look at you — you look like you did it right.'
"I thought, 'I cannot believe this.' And then he said, 'Just for today, we are going to let you go.'"
"They left, and I was like, 'Ugh, what just happened here?'"
Rosa's husband was so mad that he wanted to hit somebody. Her father and mother argued she and her husband should move back to New York, where she'd never encountered blatant racism. There had been another incident before the one in Fountain Hills, in which a neighbor mistook her for a cleaning lady, working at what was in fact the new home she'd just bought.
But this bout with bigotry was more disturbing, because it involved the MCSO, and because they were questioning her about her immigration status. If she had not worked for an immigration attorney and known her rights, she feels the situation might have escalated.
Rosa did not file a complaint with the MCSO for fear of retaliation. Now, when she sees a sheriff's car, a chill runs up her spine. She tries to convince herself that it's silly. After all, she's not undocumented. She admits that knowing the MCSO's reputation from the immigration clients she caters to, inflames that feeling of fearfulness.
"It's because it was [Arpaio's] office," Rosa admitted. "Because he can do whatever he wants to me. He has the ways to do it. He can know where I live. Yes, I'm afraid. I think he would be capable of doing really bad things, if I spoke out."
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