Children of Detained Immigrants Call for End to Raids in Arizona: Raid Today One of the Largest

PHOENIX, Arizona — While the Obama administration has established new federal guidelines to focus on employers that break the law by hiring undocumented workers, local authorities in Maricopa County are going in the opposite direction, and increasing the crackdown on employees. Just today sheriff’s deputies conducted one of the largest raids to date at a paper plant in Phoenix.

Heidi Rubi Portugal (holding sign) and other child protesters look up at the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in downtown Phoenix - Photo: Nick Oza

Heidi Rubi Portugal, holding sign, and other child protesters look up at the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in downtown Phoenix. (Photo: Nick Oza)

Last Friday dozens of children took to the streets to call for an end to immigration raids by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and to bring attention to the social and economic impact the raids have had on their families.

“I want to tell Sheriff Joe Arpaio to let my parents alone and let them free. And leave the people that are working out, and (instead) get the people that are killing others and robbing,” said Katherine Figueroa, a 9-year-old U.S. citizen.

Katherine’s parents Sandra and Carlos Figueroa –both undocumented — were arrested in June in a raid at a Phoenix carwash where they worked , and charged with identity theft. Katherine found out about their arrest when she saw her dad detained on a local TV news program.

It’s been two months since Katherine has shared a meal with her parents. She now stays with one of her aunts.

“He needs to stop the raids is not fair what he’s doing to people,” said Katherine who held a cardboard sign in the shape of a colorful orange and black butterfly.

Listen to Katherine here:


The Monarch butterfly was the theme for the young marchers because it endures an epic migration between Mexico and the U.S. for its survival.

Chanting “Obama, Obama we want our parents back,” the children walked in the hot Arizona summer from Madison Jail, were their parents are detaine to Sheriff Arpaio’s offices in downtown Phoenix.

Listen to the children chanting:


“This is a form of child abuse,” said Buffalo Rick Galeener, a supporter of Sheriff Arpaio who was among the few counter-protesters at the children’s march. “These parents are separating themselves from their children, when they could take them back to Mexico.”

Arizona has one of the toughest employer sanctions laws in the nation. Employers who are caught knowingly hiring undocumented workers can have their license suspended and have to shut their business at the second offense.

Since the law took effect in 2008 sheriff’s deputies have conducted at least 23 raids and arrested 264 workers. No businesses have been charged.

“Identity theft is a serious crime. Despite the fact that it seems the President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security will shift their focus to only go after employers, I will continue to pursue all illegal aliens in business establishments who take away valuable jobs from U.S. citizens” said Arpaio in a recent press release.

Salvador Reza, an organizer from PUENTE, a local movement that organized the march, said he hoped it “would touch (Arpaio’s) heart.”

Workplace raids in Arizona have left a number of immigrant families in dire need of legal help and financial support, but there are few resources to help them.

“I’m thinking how I’m going to buy diapers for my daughter,” said Maria, a 20-year old undocumented mother of an 8 months old baby whose husband was detained in a raid. Maria, who is four months pregnant, asked for her last name to be withheld.

Some communities are organizing car washes and yard sales to raise funds to help those who have been arrested.

“A lot of the families are not prepared for who would take care of the children,” said Sara Myklebust, an activist from the Phoenix Repeal Coalition, a community group that is organizing the immigrant families.

Most families can’t afford legal fees and the court has a lack of translators to help them understand the process, she said.

For the Figueroa’s it has been quite tough. The family sold living room furniture to raise money to pay part of the attorney’s fees for those detained.

The legal process has been confusing to say the least.

“I’m a little sad and confused,” said Katherine Figueroa’s mother, Sandra, in an interview inside the Estrella Jail, a detention facility for women. “The attornies told me that if I wanted to be released I had to accuse by boss.”

Figueroa said she received poor legal help.

Sandra and her husband Carlos are facing identity theft charges for allegedly using false documents to obtain employment. They could remain in jail for up to six months awaiting trial, and afterwards face up to 2 years of probation.

Either way the result could be their deportation to Mexico.

Arpaio’s worksite raids haven’t occurred without protest and controversy.

“I was in jail for three months and I never got medical attention,” said Alejandra Alvarez, who was detained in a February raid at a landscaping company. She couldn’t breast feed her child. “He’s not only hurting us, he’s hurting our children.”

Her daughter Heidi Rubi Portugal –a U.S. born child- joined other children in the march.

Listen to Heidi:


“I want him to stop stealing children’s smiles,” said the 11 year old. “I think Arpaio should be deported to Mexico so he can see how people suffer in Mexico, how hard it’s for people to cross. It never occurs to him to ask: Why did you come? How many smiles you left behind.”

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice over alleged civil rights violations.

America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” has attracted controversy by arresting immigrant drivers for minor offenses in Latino neighborhoods.

He has the largest force in the nation deputized to enforce federal immigration laws under a 287 (g) memorandum of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The agreement is now being reviewed after a recent directive issued by Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. The new guidelines for the 287(g) program mandate local police to focus on the apprehension of criminal immigrants and not those who are illegally in the country.

AboutValeria Fernández
Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist from Uruguay with more than a 14 years experience as a bilingual documentary producer and reporter on Arizona’s immigrant community and the US-Mexico borderlands. She co-directed and produced "Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies that aired in Al Jazeera America. Her work as reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico broadcast in PBS, San Diego and won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting in 2016. She freelances for a number of print, digital and broadcast media outlets, including Feet in 2 Worlds, CNN Español, Radio Bilingue, PRI's Global Nation, Al Jazeera, and Discovery Spanish.