Feathered Bastard

Zack de la Rocha Talks 287(g); and a Desperate Letter from Inside Estrella Jail

Zack talks about Arpaio and 287(g) with artist Ernesto Yerena

I'll give you two reasons why demonstrators will be marching May 2 in Phoenix from the Wells Fargo building downtown -- where Sheriff Arpaio maintains two floors of pricey executive offices -- to Joe's Estrella Jail, a hellhole that's home to over 1,000 inmates, most of them women.

One reason people will be protesting is the mistreatment of prisoners, undocumented and otherwise, inside Joe's gulags. Women have had their arms broken, their jaws dislocated, and sometimes worse. There have also been numerous in-custody deaths. Condemned by Amnesty International, Arpaio's gruesome dungeons are dangerous, dismal places of internment. They are even sadder when they are populated by mothers separated from their children after being netted in Joe's anti-immigrant sweeps.

I can't tell you how the letter presented here made it to New Times, because to do so would put the women who wrote it at risk. In large part, it speaks for itself. The mention of 17th Street is a reference to the place where people go to retrieve impounded vehicles from the Phoenix Police Department. I ran the allegations in the letter by PPD spokesman Tommy Thompson. Thompson told me that PPD only arrests people when they present fraudulent I.D., and that valid Mexican driver's licenses and matricular consular cards are accepted. I plan to look into the issue further at a later date.

Thanks to activist Lydia Guzman of Respect/Respeto for this rough translation. I have removed the names of the women who signed, so that they may be sheilded from further abuse.

To whom it may concern,

We attest that we are a group of desperate and frustrated women that are asking for someone to help us. We find ourselves detained in the Estrella prison of Maricopa County. There are lots of women that are unjustly being accused for crimes that we have not committed. We are all mothers of families -- wives and daughters. And for this reason, we are asking for your help. Please have mercy on us. What you know outside of what's taken place in here is nothing. We are treated like the worst delinquents, the worst criminals, only because we are Hispanic or undocumented. They treat us worse than anything that exists in this world. There are plenty of injustices and plenty of humiliations that we are experiencing. Some of us for wanting to work and make a better life for our children. And others for believing that we could claim our vehicles with a drivers' license from our country. We were lied to. We called to the place on 17th Street and asked them for information on the requirements that we needed to claim our vehicles. And they lied to us by telling us that they do accept licenses from another country. And we arrive there and we show our documents. They arrest us and put charges on us, saying that those [documents] are false, and that we have instruments to falsify these documents. And none of that is true. These are valid licenses. And they tell us they are not. Please help us. We find ourselves here in a tunnel without an exit, being treated like dogs that are not deserving of anything. We need help for our cases. Someone to listen to us and do something for the injustices that are being committed against us. Our children and our parents suffer our sentences the most. And we find ourselves with our hearts broken without knowing what's going to happen tomorrow. We ask that you have the valor to take this document to a news agency or a radio or to any agency that can help Hispanics that are undocumented. Or to any place that can help us. We are human beings, not animals. We are women, not criminals. Help us please listen to our pleas, so that our cases can come to light. So we have hope of coming out and being reunited with our families. Please, we ask for you. We beg you. We plead for your help. Gracias.

If you wish to visit us, you can do so, so that you can prove what is happening. If there is a lawyer that is interested in helping us, we would be eternally grateful. God bless.

The second reason folks will be in the streets is the 287(g) program itself, which turns local gendarmes into immigration cops. It's discussed by Zack de la Rocha in the video at the top of this post, as the singer signs posters by artist Ernesto Yerena for the support of groups like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Tonatierra and Puente. De la Rocha will also be doing a fundraiser for Tonatierra and the Maceualli Center when he's in town for the march. I mentioned the details of the upcoming fundraiser in a previous blog post.

De la Rocha explains the 287(g) program here in broad strokes. The uninitiated will get the general idea. However, his assertion that the Joe's 287(g) agreement allows ex-Klansmen and minutemen to become federal agents is off-base.

The RATM frontman may be confusing issues. Arpaio has some unsavory links -- to minutemen and nativist extremist organizations, such as United for a Sovereign America, a group which has accepted neo-Nazis into its ranks. Arpaio's posse likely includes members of anti-immigrant groups. But posse members are unpaid volunteers, not 287(g)-trained deputies. Posse members are basically flunkies that provide support to the MCSO.

Further muddling things is the fact that posse members often assist 287(g) deputies in Joe's anti-immigrant sweeps. Zack can be forgiven the confusion. Most people don't have the vaguest notion of what 287(g) refers to. I hear politicians and reporters flub it all the time. So Zack's still ahead of them on that score.

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