A sheriff van was parked outside of the Durango Jail with an advertisement on the side that read “Sheriff Arpaio says ‘Be a techno-cop. Report a fugitive.” Undocumented immigrants filed out of the gate. They shuffled past the van, most hanging their heads in shame, some trying to hide their faces. All present could hear the clanking of the shackles that connected the prisoners to each other by their ankles and hands.
On Feb. 4 at least 18 uniformed sheriff’s deputies, armed and armored, stood outside the Durango Jail waiting to escort more than 200 undocumented immigrants to their new quarters in their own part of Tent City.
The prisoners slowly walked down Gibson Street. Some of them were carrying plastic or paper bags with their belongings and shouting things. Others clutched religious symbols.
One prisoner said they were “treated like animals” and that they “just want justice and to be treated with kindness and respect.” As the prisoner spoke, an older prisoner with salt and pepper hair had a tear drip down his face. Other prisoners made claims about lack of medical care.
Once the prisoners reached their new home, which consisted of bunk beds in tents, they were led into a fenced off area and waited to have their shackles removed. Sheriffs called out instructions for prisoners not to move once the shackles were off.
As the prisoners were in the process of entering Tent City, Sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference where he stated that this setup would save the state money, although he had no exact figure as to how much it would save. According to Arpaio, Tent City can now house 2,500 prisoners. When the prisoners noticed Arpaio many of them began to shout things such as “racist” and “Hitler.”
During the press conference Arpaio made other claims. He said prisoners told him that they preferred being outside, that they “enjoyed the sunlight.” He said this while fondly patting his tie, held in place with a gun shaped tie clip.
However, Annette Sexton-Ruis, a protestor outside the facilities, said that her father was a prisoner for a month in Tent City. Her father, a 74-year-old Phoenician arrested for a DUI, told her the tents were inhumane and had rats.
“These tents are just another way for Arpaio to promote his own racist beliefs,” Sexton-Ruis said.
About 50 to 100 protestors, besides Sexton-Ruis, gathered for similar reasons. Most carried signs denouncing Arpaio or the practice of Tent City.
As people protested and Arpaio continued his press conference, one prisoner waited to be admitted into Tent City reflecting upon they way the undocumented detainees had been treated.
“We’re treated like scum, like animals,” one prisoner said. “I am so sad that the country I love treats me this way.”
Contact the reporter at [email protected]