Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff who rose to fame by making use of controversial anti-immigration enforcement efforts, gave Jane Sanders an unexpected tour inside his infamous “Tent City” immigrant prison on Sunday. She concluded the conditions are “horrific.”
Sanders, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, came to Phoenix to meet with families affected by Arpaio’s discriminatory and unconstitutional law enforcement practices. Planning to view the conditions through the fence of Tent City — an outdoor extension of the Maricopa County jail covered with canvas tents meant to hold more than 2,000 immigrant detainees — Sanders was “surprised” when Arpaio invited her in.
Arpaio created Tent City more than 20 years as an outdoor jail to deal with overcrowding in his main jail. The heat can rise up into the triple digits during the summer months in Phoenix, Arizona, leaving the tent structures to primarily serve as brutal physical punishment. Arpaio once characterized Tent City as his own “concentration camp.”
While visiting the tents, Sanders and Arpaio — who endorsed Trump earlier this year, citing the GOP frontrunner’s tough stance on undocumented immigrants — clashed over the conditions at the outdoor jail.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Sanders tweeted that Arpaio admitted that “the temperature in the tents were up to 130 degrees in the summer” and that he removes meat from all of the prisoners’ meals. Arpaio, meanwhile, insisted that the conditions at Tent City are appropriate. “These are all convicted (inmates). They’re all doing their time,” he told Sanders, according to The Arizona Republic.
But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Tent City’s population consists of mostly pre-trial inmates who haven’t yet had a chance to bring their case before a judge. Some of them have low-level offenses like driving without a license.
Sanders also questioned the sheriff about his use of racial profiling and his move to deputize civilians to round up undocumented people, though she said he declined to answer her. And she expressed her concern about the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric in the current presidential election. “I am concerned as I listen to Donald Trump talking about Mexicans and Latinos and all the negative things he’s saying,” Sanders told Arpaio.
Arpaio and Trump are a logical match. The sheriff's approach to immigrants echoes Trump's campaign promise to create a "deportation force" that will round up undocumented people living in the country. Arpaio has long authorized his deputies to go after suspected undocumented immigrants, ensnaring many in deportation proceedings.
But Arpaio's own deportation force has also left him ensnared in some costly lawsuits. In 2015, Arpaio asked the public to help with his legal fees while he waited for a decision on a contempt of court hearing about his department's systemic racial profiling of suspected undocumented immigrants.
The hearing followed a May 2013 landmark ruling by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow who said that Arpaio’s office broke the law when he profiled Latinos during traffic and immigration stops. The ruling called on Arpaio and his officers to implement changes, like improving training and technology equipment, to show that the sheriff’s office would no longer systemically single out Latinos. But since then, Arpaio has made insincere efforts to address racial biases, including holding court-required community outreach meetings in districts with few Latino residents and declining to show up at meetings.
It will likely cost millions for taxpayers to implement court recommendations to fix Arpaio's acts of racial bias, with Maricopa County already spending $1.6 million in legal costs and expenses for Arpaio's court proceedings in 2014.