Joe Arpaio Hugs It Out with Undocumented Students, Punks Out on Arresting Them

The Dream Walkers after confronting Sheriff Joe: From left, in pink, Carlos Roa, Felipe Matos, Juan Rodriguez (behind Matos), and Gaby Pacheco

They entered the belly of the beast, and they hugged it out with El Diablo. Literally.

That's right, the four immigrant students many know simply as the Dream Walkers today ascended the 19th Floor of the Wells Fargo Tower, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has his executive offices, and met with Maricopa County's grumpy grandpa of a gendarme.

Three of the students are undocumented, one has legal residence, and there was also present a fifth comrade in arms.  

Although Arpaio has made no bones in the past about arresting suspected illegal immigrants and locking them up, he declined to take the human bait offered by the students, famous for trekking by foot from their homes in Miami, Florida to Washington, D.C. earlier this year and confronting ICE agents and sheriffs all along the way.

Instead, Arpaio punked out. And the twenty-somethings who are pushing for the passage of the DREAM Act -- proposed legislation that would allow children brought into this country by undocumented parents to legalize their status -- wrapped their arms around the ancient autocratic badge-bearer.

Fortunately, I was spared this grotesque sight as I was blocked by Arpaio henchpersons Lisa Allen, Lt. Brian Lee, and Deputy Chief Brian Sands. No New Times allowed in the room, particularly this New Times employee.

Instead, they called out lovingly for Arizona Republic scribe JJ Hensley, and waved other media through the blacked-out doors. Unbeknownst to these gatekeepers, videographer Dennis Gilman got a man in, and will be posting his video shortly. Heh.

In any case, I would likely have lost my previously eaten breakfast burrito if I'd seen the hugfest. When the Dream Walkers emerged from Arpaio's offices, I asked Dream Walker Gaby Pacheco why she embraced the man who's unleashed a tsunami of terror on area Hispanics.

"I hugged him because I wanted him to feel the pain that our community has been feeling," she said. "But also to tell him that as a human being I don't fear him. I told him with tears coming down that in his heart he has good, and that he has the ability to come back, you know. He was astray and doing these horrible things to our community, but he has the power in his heart to come back and fight with us against these unjust laws."

Yeah, Arpaio has a heart all right. It just happens to resemble a lump of coal.

This is not to downplay the courage the students showed in announcing ahead of time their undocumented status and their intention to confront Arpaio, as I reported recently when I spoke to Dream Walker Carlos Roa.

Roa hugged him, too. I asked him jokingly (sort of) if Arpaio left scorch marks on him. He told me he had no illusions about Arpaio maintaining his anti-immigrant ways.

"He's going to continue enforcing SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant laws," stated Roa, who was brought to this country from Venezuela when he was two by his parents. "That's why this doesn't stop here."

He went on to demand that the Obama administration end the criminalization of the undocumented, stop the deportations of possible DREAM Act students, and cease such federal immigrant-hunting programs as 287(g) and Secure Communities immediately.

"Today is a new day for immigrants across the nation," Roa told reporters at one point. "We will no longer live in fear. We will no longer live in terror of detention and deportation. We will no longer tolerate the injustices perpetuated by this oppressive system." 

In a way, Roa and the others called Arpaio's bluff, and Arpaio blinked -- probably figuring he could play them. In fact, the sheriff recently told reporters during a press conference that, "Instead of taking them [the undocumented] to ICE, take 'em to me. I have plenty of room in the tents."

But not enough room for a crew of clean-cut kids, some of whom also happen not to have their "papers." Just as he's criticized ICE for doing in the past, Arpaio today exercised his discretion and chose not to arrest the very people he and his nativist supporters brand as criminals. Oh, Joe, you old softy...

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