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Joe Arpaio’s Pardon and an Iron Fist Against Migrants

The case of racist and anti-immigrant former sheriff Joe Arpaio took the spotlight after Trump announced he was assessing his pardon.

Bárbara Funes

August 24, 2017
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Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a court order to halt his dragnet targeting of immigrants. The case has forced the resurfacing of a court order to restrain patrols who conducted raids and harassment campaigns against immigrants. The possible pardon for Trump’s political ally sparked a wave of criticism throughout the country.

Arpaio gave unconditional support to Trump at the start of his electoral campaign, after Trump announced his candidacy with an infamous smear against Mexicans. The speech underline the racism and xenophobia that would be a mainstay throughout the campaign and into the presidency.

Sheriff Arpaio was also one of the main proponents of the Arizona SB1070 Act, known to many as the Hate Law that passed in 2010 and further criminalized immigrants. The Tent City prison in Phoenix established by Arpaio detained immigrants with or without criminal charges and no legal recourse, enduring suffocating temperatures, fear, and humiliation. The prison was just dismantled in May 2017.

In Maricopa, the county where he held office, Arpaio was widely repudiated for his policies of open discrimination and criminalization of Latinos, which led to the separation of families.

Arpaio’s pending pardon is in line with Trump’s reactionary, anti-immigrant government.

Super-exploitation of migrants


The other side of impunity for Arpaio and laws that criminalize immigrants is the super-exploitation of immigrant workers.

In his book, In the Fields of the North, photojournalist David Bacon documents that 57 percent of migrant day laborers have no legal status in the United States. This situation exposes them to all kinds of abuses on the part of the entrepreneurs of the agricultural sector, from farmers to agribusiness like Driscoll.

The criminalization of migrants allows bosses to employ them under extremely precarious conditions, as evidenced in the case of Sarbanand Farms located in Sumas, Washington. There, farm worker Honest Silva collapsed on the company’s farm fields and eventually died. His supervisor had forced him to continue working in spite of his illness. After Silva’s death, his co-workers declared a strike and the company responded by firing workers. The bosses owe the workers back wages and for charging for dilapidated housing and food.

With the loss of food sovereignty resulting from the opening of the Mexican market to US agricultural exports, a perverse movement occurred. Millions of indigenous peasants and small producers were left in ruins. Many migrated to the United States and worked on farms and fields much like Sarbanand Farms.

Trump now seeks to impose a new Braceros Plan with the support of Mexican President Peña Nieto as part of the renegotiation of NAFTA.

The US agricultural sector – the largest exporter in the world in its field – thrives on migrant labor, or super-exploited labor. These migrants live in unhealthy conditions, sustain long-term exposure to pesticides, and suffer threats and abuses of all kinds.

Right now, more migrants crowd into trailers to try to cross the border, like the one found this week in Edinburg, Texas. The Border Patrol processed and deported the 16 migrants.

Those who migrate leave everything: familial ties, towns, and friends. A lot of them travel with the hope of finding agricultural work as a way to avoid the hunger that shrouds the rural zones in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, and other states.

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Bárbara Funes

Bárbara is an editor of our sister site La Izquierda Diario México.

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