By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Not one to shy away from attention, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio put on another one of his media-oriented public shows on Wednesday, when he had 200 undocumented immigrant detainees march in handcuffs along a Phoenix street, wearing black-and-white- striped prisoner suits.
The road was closed to all but the press. The press was notified of the public spectacle the day before and arrangements were made for all media to be present and photograph and film the prisoners. All the major television stations were present as were newspapers and radio and television helicopters hovered overhead.
The forced march though short had one intended effect: it was a publicity orgy for the Sheriff.
Arpaio, the star of a much-criticized Fox Reality channel reality show, ordered the march to separate illegal immigrants from the rest of the inmate population. The inmates walked to their new detention facility, a holding camp known as Tent City which Arpaio set up in 1993.
Arpaio said (in a statement) housing the illegal immigrants separately would save money, although he did not explain how other than to say it’s cheaper to house inmates in tents than at traditional jails.
According to La Frontera Times‘ Alfredo Gutiérrez, the attention-seeking sheriff gave a brief press conference before the prisoner march, where he said the prisoners “like it out here. Okay? They’d rather be here than in a hard facility. Here, they have the beautiful sun. They can walk around and it’s a nice program.”
Dozens of protesters present at the march and some local officials were not amused.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said the sheriff could be violating the inmates human rights and announced she would take the matter to the Department of Justice, according to L.A. newspaper La Opinión.
Enrique Morones, founder of humanitarian organization Border Angels, told La Opinión‘s Eileen Truax that Arpaio should be jailed for human rights violations.
That image, men marching down the street in chains, is the way in which African Americans were treated when they were slaves. This man thinks he is mocking immigrants, but he is not a native in this country, his great-great-grandparents were immigrants too. He represents the legal system in this country, with things like this, like Guantanamo, like Abu Ghraib.
Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the Arizona ACLU, told The A.P. that the march itself was not unconstitutional, but it was degrading and unnecessary to shepherd prisoners in front of media.
“You’re sort of giving the message that it’s OK to treat these inmates differently. It’s OK to treat them like circus animals,” Soler Meetze said. “He didn’t have to make a spectacle. He could’ve moved them on buses.”