The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) jails in Arizona is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice because the police officers working in those jails allegedly abuse 287(g), a section of immigration law enabling the federal government to deputize local police officers to enforce immigration law. However, the police officers are allegedly abusing their power and abuse the immigrant women detainees.
Respect/Respet, a local organisation that documents human and civil rights abuses, received handwritten letters from imprisoned immigrant women detailing grueling testimonials of physical mistreatment and abuse. For instance, one woman got her arm broken by one of the guards, and another woman got her jaw broken by a sheriff deputy. One of the letters implored for help saying, “Please help us, we’re in a tunnel without end, treated like dogs.”
So far, Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez, 46, allegedly an illegal undocumented immigrant, is the only woman to come out publicly with her story – on March 11th, six guards at the Estrella jail, a detention facility for women near Phoenix, were forcing her to put her fingerprint on a form she refused to sign. In doing so, they broke her left arm. The form was supposed to transfer her custody from the Estrella jail to immigration authorities. She was not treated for her injury until 20 hours later. She told reporters, “I know I’m not the only one, I met other women there who have gone through terrible things.”
Lt. Brian Lee, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, stated that Garcia-Martinez’s allegations are being investigated now, but he also stated that the sheriff deputies could use force if necessary to get a fingerprint on immigration documents as part of their job requirements. So on May 1, officials from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security visited the sheriff’s office to pursue an investigation. Human and civil rights groups, like Respect/Respet and pro-immigrant group Puente, are fighting for Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio’s 287(g) agreement with the federal government to be revoked. Arpaio’s jails are meant for people accused of serious crimes awaiting trial, but a significant amount of undocumented immigrants guilty of minor offenses end up there as well as they wait to be transferred to immigration authorities.