DAY 49 – Battling Kafka in Phoenix

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PHOENIX – To the rest of the country, Joe Arpaio is the most notorious resident of Maricopa County. He runs a prison famous for being criticized as violating international human rights, housing incarcerated people in tents while temperatures regularly climb in Salt River Valley to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit  (38 Celsius). So far, in 2016, there have been more than 30 days that clocked in at over 110f  (43c). The spokesperson at Maricopa County Jail says there are 783 people living in these conditions.

They and the other 7,025 people currently incarcerated here wear pink clothes as an effort to humiliate them. Many of the questions on the FAQ page such as “What does MCSO do for kids?” and “Does the Sheriff really have a chain gang?” lead to 404 error pages. A blog post on “How to Survive Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Jail System” includes tips like:

7 If you must do drugs, clean the works. There are hundreds of men sharing one dirty syringe throughout Arpaio’s jail system. Hepatitis C is rampant, and TB not uncommon. The way Arpaio runs the jail constitutes a public-health risk.

13 Don’t tell the guards you are feeling suicidal or they will four-point you, meaning all four of your limbs will be shackled to a bunk and you will have to urinate and defecate where you lay.

17 Stock up on the free toothpaste, AmerFresh, in case you end up in a cockroach-infested area. It effectively blocks the cracks the cockroaches swarm from when the lights are turned off.

Arizona is also famous for SB 1070, which requires all persons suspected of being foreign to produce proof of residency when stopped by police. Naturally, these stops are of people of color, not people who look like me. I am waved through immigration checkpoints all across the US Southwest, even driving with out-of-state license plates.

Arizona House Bill 2281 bans curriculum that teaches ethnic studies courses, most notably Mexican American Studies. Educators and students are forbidden from speaking Spanish in schools.

Where does this mean-spirited and hostile legislation come from?

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For many people living in Arizona, as do others across the country, life can seem like something out of Kafka, or Philip K. Dick’s famous tomb world. Things seem to go wrong for no reason. A single oversight can result in massive delays or incarceration. Reality seems constructed, but certainly not by the people who are sleeping rough in a tent behind razor wire.

I spoke with two people in Arizona, Ben and Noemi.

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Ben has been working in migrant justice with People United for Justice. They’re trying to get Joe Arpaio out of office in the upcoming election. Ben is from rural Iowa and they’re angry about how immigrants and people of color are used as scapegoats. Ben offers some background to the situation in Arizona.

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Noemi represents the human cost of these racist, oppressive policies. She works for The Puente Movement, an advocacy organization that serves the undocumented population of Arizona. They challenge raids, detentions, ICE and try and teach community self-defense. Noemi knows about these challenges first-hand because she and her family are undocumented.

Noemi arrived in the US at the age of 3 and didn’t realize her immigration status until she was 16. She did odd-jobs after high school, as she would have to pay international tuition rates for her local community college otherwise. When DACA was launched in 2012, Noemi was thrilled, thinking this new status might help her attend college and become a nurse. But, since her father had lost his job because of Arizona’s E-verify policies, she would need to find the money for the application herself…




Author: Taryn Fivek

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