In Arizona, Immigrants Stage Hunger Strike to Protest Conditions in County Jails

2009-05-06-079

A candlelight vigil outside the Sandra Day O’ Connor Federal Courthouse in Phoenix on Wednesday in support of prisoners on a hunger strike in Maricopa County jails. Photo: www.josemunozphotos.com

PHOENIX, Arizona – A movement to protest alleged mistreatment of immigrants being held in Maricopa County jails gathered momentum this week as jail detainees initiated a series of hunger strikes, and protests were held in various parts of the county.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) confirmed several instances of inmates refusing food over the past week.

“We’re surprised, we never expected this. But we’re supporting them,” said activist Salvador Reza, an organizer from the pro-immigrant movement PUENTE. His group held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night with relatives of inmates.

The county jail system, administered by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, houses about 9-thousand inmates. On average, undocumented immigrants make up 20 percent of the prison population.

Last Saturday PUENTE led a 6 mile-march to the Durango jail complex to denounce alleged abuse of immigrant women in the county jails. Sheriff Arpaio was the first to report that 43 women in the Estrella Jail had gone on a hunger strike to support the protesters. Citing security reasons, Arpaio had ordered all prisoners to be placed in lock-down during the march.

On Tuesday, May 5th Spanish-language TV station Univision 33 reported on another strike in the Durango jail through an interview with family members of inmates. MCSO confirmed to Feet in Two Worlds that 900 inmates refused their evening meal that same day. Arpaio said Wednesday that the strike was over. But later on Wednesday evening his office reported that 245 inmates had again refused dinner. (more…)

Influenza and Immigration: Keeping the “Anti-Immigrant Flu” Out of Newsrooms

A pro-Sheriff Arpaio demonstrator in Phoenix on Saturday. (Photo: Nick Oza)
A pro-Sheriff Arpaio demonstrator in Phoenix on Saturday. (Photo: Nick Oza)

PHOENIX, Arizona — Conservative talk-radio commentators were faster than a virus in spreading the idea that undocumented immigrants are a hazard to public health by bringing a new flu virus across the country’s “porous border.”

But one national media organization is trying to keep the anti-immigrant fervor out of newsrooms.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) called for the mainstream media to “resist the baseless blame of immigrants” in connection with the spread of influenza A-H1N1.

“This virus should not be characterized as a Mexican disease,” said Iván Román, NAHJ’s executive director. “We should also resist covering it in a way that furthers anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

Román pointed out that while there may be a temptation to link Mexican immigrants to the spread of the disease in the United States, it is necessary to keep in mind that this community is no more responsible for it than American spring-breakers traveling to Mexico.

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On May Day Week in Arizona, Aging Mexican Braceros Still Fighting for Dignity

By Valeria Fernández, FI2W contributor
A handful of aging braceros are holding a weeklong protest outside the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix to claim wages taken from their paychecks during a guest-worker program decades ago - Photo: A. J. Alexander.

A handful of aging braceros are holding a weeklong protest outside the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix to claim wages taken from their paychecks during a guest-worker program decades ago. (Photos: A. J. Alexander)

PHOENIX, Arizona — While thousands across the nation plan to march for immigration reform this Friday, May 1, a handful of former immigrant farmworkers in their seventies are holding a different protest here.

The men still call themselves braceros, the inheritors of a largely criticized guest-worker program agreement between the United States and Mexico to satisfy the need for labor during World War II. Their story offers a cautionary tale about the prospect of future guest-worker programs touted by political leaders such as Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl as part of the answer to the need for immigration reform.

The braceros’ weeklong rally started on Monday, April 27th, outside the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix to demand that Mexico’s government settle a 40-year-old debt with them. This was money that was taken from their paychecks while they worked in the American countryside. Mexico was supposed to create a fund for the workers with that money, but its government just kept it.

Between 1943 and 1964 about 4 million braceros worked in the fields. About 400 of them now reside in Arizona. After the Bracero Program ended, they stayed and continued to work as undocumented labor. Today, many like Dionisio Garcia, 76, don’t have much to show for it when it comes to retirement.

“We’re here to see if they pay us,” said Garcia, a member of the Frente Bi-Nacional de Ex-Braceros, a retired farmworkers group from Arizona that organized the protest.

On a Wednesday morning, Garcia and his fellow ex-braceros stood outside the consulate holding a large sign demanding payment. For Garcia –now an American citizen–, it’s hard to stand for more than a few minutes ever since a cow broke his back at a cattle ranch four years ago.

“I’d just found out there was some money that they owe us,” said Manuel Coronel, 81. Coronel hides from the Arizona sun under a hat, sitting in his motorized wheelchair as he watches people come and go into the consulate.

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