Reprinted from Consortium News
Activist Salvador Reza after being unlawfully arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2010.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's embrace of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has built a national reputation for his harsh treatment of undocumented migrants and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent, is a clear signal of how Trump plans to treat Latinos if he becomes president.
While the federal courts have taken legal steps to restrain Arpaio's most flagrant actions, the elected sheriff has set the tone for the right-wing debate on immigration and has paved the way for Trump's promise to deport all 12 million undocumented people from the United State and build "the most beautiful wall you've ever seen."
For more than seven years, Salvador Reza, a Phoenix-based indigenous rights leader and long-time human rights activist with Tonatierra , has gone head to head with Arpaio and was appalled to see the sheriff on stage at the Republican National Convention. Dennis Bernstein spoke with Salvador Reza.
Dennis Bernstein: Could [you] begin by just giving us a bit of background in terms of the kind of work you've been involved in, what your struggle has been over the last 10 and 20 years?
Salvador Reza: Well, Tonatierra is an indigenous rights organization, and we see immigration tolerance through that lens. We see that we have been here for thousands of years, and these are the lands where the Aztecs migrated from. So when we defend anybody that's being persecuted by Joe Arpaio or by this racist law, we do it from that context.
We've been fighting Arpaio since 2007, when he started deporting day laborers massively from a furniture store. We were able to get him out of there, basically by almost breaking the store financially. We've been instrumental in putting pressure on Joe Arpaio everywhere he turns. He arrested me twice, once voluntarily and the second one because he wanted to teach me a lesson. And the litigation is still going on.
But then [State Rep] Russell Pierce arrested me too, for opposing his racist policies in the state legislature. So, I hate to say it, but with Trump, you know, getting up there and possibly becoming the next president, the same policies that started here in Arizona are going to be implemented nationwide. With the exception that, now with Donald Trump, you don't have a sheriff that's relying on taxpayers' money. He'll be relying on corporate money plus taxpayers' money. So that makes him more dangerous. [...] So he doesn't care whether the justice department, the judge, whatever puts pressure on Arpaio or what he stands for, because Donald Trump basically stands for Arpaio.
DB: That was a good way to set the scene for your multiple confrontations with Arpaio and the policy that he, and now Trump, represent. But let me, for a moment, ask you to give us your reaction when you heard both that [...] Arpaio would be a major supporter [of Trump], and then that [Arpaio] was given a platform [at the Republican National Convention] leading up on the day that Trump would speak. What did that mean to you? What went through your mind? How did that reverberate in your community?
SR: Well, what it means to us, and what it means to our community, is that the racist policy in Arizona, at the national level, are going to be massively pushed by the Trump administration if he gets elected. The thing is that Trump is only like a mini-me of Arpaio, with the exception that this mini-me is actually more powerful than Arpaio. Cause Arpaio is local at a county, and Donald Trump will be at the international level and the national level.
So what it means to us, the way we saw it, is very dangerous. What we predicted would happen is happening now. We didn't stop it in Arizona, we were able to squash it a little bit, but we were not able to stop it. And SB 1070 is the law of the land right now. Any police force, any police officer, can stop you for what they consider reasonable stop, and basically ask you for your documentation. And that's what is about to happen, nationwide. And to ask what it meant to us, it's a very dangerous precedent. People better hold on, because I don't think they're ready for what's coming.
DB: Can you talk ... [about] the level of violence that Joe Arpaio perpetrated on the people of Arizona, and brown people across the state [...] and very specifically, because a lot of people don't understand. I know that you were put in jail a couple of times. But just remind people some of the brutalities. Some of them led to fatalities that Arpaio propagated, forced, pushed as sort of a vigilante operation. Just so we have a taste of what he's doing on the ground, why you were able to be a little bit successful, in the courts.
SR: Arpaio, the type of damage that he inflicts upon our community, is first of all psychologica l-- the climate of fear. That is daily for a child. For example, when a parent leaves, [the child] doesn't know if he's going to have the parent back home that afternoon. The parent goes to work, he doesn't know whether he'll come back from work place, right? And, more than that, the tent city is an area where at a temperature of 115-120 degrees on the outside, getting to be 140-150 [degrees] under the tents. And that type of scenario...
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona speaking at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 25, 2011.
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DB: So, he created a tent city to house, and essentially subtly torture, the community that he was arresting en mass.