Macehualli Day Laborers Are Directly Responsible for the Defeat of Joe Arpaio

Jan 18, 2017
7:07 PM

Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a rally for Donald Trump (Photo by Gage Skidmore)


By Salvador Reza

In the United States, the “Historical Memory Management Industry” is the nonprofit, government and corporate industrial complex that records and imprints historical views by utilizing highly-educated and highly-technologically advanced mind managers. The media managers intend to neutralize future critical analysis and craft the talking points for academics and media personalities.

In the case of the rise and fall of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, that story has already been redacted. The information peddled by mass media and most academic accounts are inaccurate. The rise and fall of Sheriff Joe from power and its aftermath, as well as the rise of Donald J. Trump, need to be seen from the perspective of the affected communities, day laborers and their families.

In retrospect, the Macehualli, (day laborers organized to find work in Phoenix) were forced by the attacks against them to become a conscripted migrant resister in a high-stakes war for survival. At first, these groups were unprepared for the consequences of Arizona’s policy, orchestrated by well-organized “attrition by enforcement” proponents. “Attrition by enforcement” remains the underlying tactic by the newly-elected president Donald Trump in the quest for corporate take over of world economic migrations. Unfortunately, the implementation of those policies are spearheaded by the Corporate State and its servants: The nonprofit industrial complex.

Joe Arpaio rose to power by riding the well-designed and well-orchestrated plans of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) aided by their legal arm, Judicial Watch, and executed on the ground by their foot soldiers, the Minutemen. The plan was jump started in 2004 with the Minuteman Defense Corp. The plan’s first orchestrated ground attack sent the Minutemen to the border. Their goal? To intercept “illegal aliens” and support the Border Patrol in stopping the “invasion.” (Eleven years later, their strategy was refined and later perfected by Trump’s campaign message of the “criminal alien.”) In order to accomplish their task, the conservative think-tanks, financed by right-wing foundations and corporations, unleashed ALEC. ALEC chose states ripe for taking over facilitating the introduction of legislative proposals to control day laborers and “illegal immigration.”

After the initial border media blitz of 2004, the second attack phase concentrated on day laborers. In the eyes of the “attrition by enforcement” supporters, day laborers were the most vulnerable visible faces of an uncontrolled invasion. It was during the fall of 2005 that the Minutemen moved their operation from the border to the Home Depot on 36th and Thomas Rd. in Phoenix, Arizona. Their intent was to push “anti-illegal alien bills” locally and win over the merchant community. They were able to lobby the City of Phoenix to launch an unconstitutional quest to eradicate day laborers from street corners and sidewalks in the area. That ultimately led to 2010 and the creation of SB1070, which gave any police officer the power to inquire about legal status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. without documentation. The police agencies subsequently turned suspected detainees over to ICE for removal. While everyone was going to the border to monitor the Minutemen, legislators were churning out ALEC-designed bills behind closed doors.

On the merchant part, anti-immigrant voices were able to convince a small number of businesses to use enforcement as a way to resolve the day labor problem. After months of counter-protests by the Macehualli Day Laborers and their allies, the City of Phoenix realized the potential for a First Amendment challenge to their practices and ceased from persecuting the day laborers.

Little did anyone suspect that the worst was yet to come. Arpaio marshaled Maricopa County sheriffs into an all-out assault against brown-skinned people.

At the end of 2006, the City of Phoenix distanced itself from enforcing unconstitutional day labor arrests, causing Judicial Watch to file a lawsuit against Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris in an effort to intimidate the city and force anti-day labor legislation in the state legislature. The Minutemen, with the aid of Judicial Watch, recruited Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a recent convert to their cause. Arpaio, with a brand new 287(g) program (brought to him by lobbying from Governor Janet Napolitano), came to show the City of Phoenix “how it was done.”

The first few weeks were brutal. Arpaio, utilizing the support from local merchants, followed the script from the City of Phoenix and lent “off duty” 287(g) trained sheriff deputies to “safeguard” the furniture store from “day labor trespassers.” It was an orchestrated fictional scenario also by Pruitt’s Furniture store owner, who agreed with the Minutemen approach of forcing out the “illegal aliens” from his neighborhood.

The media painted store owner Roger Sensing as a victim of unscrupulous “illegal” laborers. Even today, academics doing research keep repeating the same lie. The day labor concentration was two blocks away in front of Home Depot and it was not until The New York Times’ Lawrence Downes exposed the fact that the story was a lie.

The first weeks of raids on day laborers were horrific. Arpaio, armed with 287(g) agreements, started arresting and deporting dozens of day laborers weekly. The store owner, with his binoculars, would spot a truck picking up day laborers, call his off-duty sheriffs who would follow the car, stop the driver, question them on their status, arrest the day laborers and turn them over to ICE. That was the beginning of the end for Arpaio’s 24 years in power started. It was Don Marcelino, a day laborer from Chiapas who came to me and asked for help.

“They are hunting us down like animals” Marcelino said. “We want to do something about the store owner, he is the one pointing us out to the sheriffs.”

“It won’t be easy,” I told him.

Marcelino answered, “If they are going to deport or incarcerate us, then let’s make it worth our time.”


We scheduled the protest to coincide with the holiday shopping. Every Saturday morning.

The “Hispanic gentry,” the insiders in City Hall, newspaper owners from the community, all counseled against taking on Arpaio,

“It will only give him the publicity he wants” they would tell us.

For the Macehualli day laborers, doing nothing was not an option. Hundreds were being deported. It was too late, and the fight was on. The target was not Arpaio—it was the economic infrastructure that supported his policy. A lesson that many non-profits are unwilling to utilize since it would have an effect on their funding sources.

According to Sensing, the boycott cost him half his business. He did not realize that 60% of his customers were Mexican. The others were people hiring day laborers to fix their homes. By Christmas morning, Sensing, after losing his Black Friday and Christmas profits, realized his mistake and evicted Sheriff Joe from his property, along with his Minutemen cadre of bikers, neo-Nazis and racist supporters. The assortment of right-wing extremists had made Pruitt’s the battleground to stop what they called the “Reconquista.”

The Macehualli chose economic pressure to squeeze out Arpaio’s venom.

In fact, when you read the legal briefs on the Melendres v. Arpaio case, the argument lies squarely on the abuse by MCSO officers and their unconstitutional abuse of day laborers at Pruitt’s and the subsequent series of raids into day laborer neighborhoods. Arpaio’s alibi to conduct the raids was that he was responding to the request of a handful of merchants recruited by car dealer,Rusty Childress and Buffalo Rick Galaneer, an avowed racist whose sole purpose in life was to get rid of “illegals.”

The so-called “saturation patrols” conducted by Arpaio were no more than the expansion of the plan utilized against day laborers, stopping cars with some excuse to intimidate the general population wherever brown-skinned people lived and worked.

“Attrition by enforcement” was in full force, and we were going to resist.

When they ask me who was responsible for defeating Arpaio, it was the boots on the ground, the Macehualli organized day labor workers. The legal and political backing came locally from Tonatierra and nationally from the National Day Labor Organizing Network. When the problem catapulted to national and international arenas, the ACLU, MALDEF, NILC and a spectrum of national groups offered legal backing and amplification.

However, the tactic that did in Arpaio was the application of concentrated economic pressure on the supporters of Arizona Apartheid. Merchants, Wells Fargo Bank and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce all acted in 2011 to stop racist bills and took on state senator Russell Pearce. The economic losses to the state were exorbitant. In just a couple of years, Arizona fell from second in growth in the United States to dead last.

It had worked: the Apache tactic of attacking a superior force in a concentrated narrow specific point to draw them in to an ambush. The day laborers brought in all the forces pro and against “immigration reform” into focus, shining the light on the atrocities of Arpaio and his unconstitutional, inhumane tactics. It forced the Phoenix, Maricopa County and Arizona to choose in the same manner as Pruitt’s owner: between economic losses or inhumane laws.

Still… Arizona Is Now Trump Policy

However, the right-wing plan was to make Arizona the pilot, yet now it has reached epidemic proportions with the election of Trump. The Arizona experiment has become the national agenda. It is not enough to concentrate on electoral politics without a plan to organize on the streets and empower the affected communities within their own ranks. That has not happened with the nonprofit sector leading the way. They have too many invested interests with the economic political ruling class. It has to be an independent grassroots self-funded movement away from inside political players.

We cannot have NCLR attorneys calling off a boycott they never started, or liberal legal defense organizations deciding when to suit or settle on blatant cases of police abuse.

A movement doesn’t stop just because the legislators and the merchants are feeling the pressure after harsh economic losses brought on by their racist practices. The Chambers of Commerce leveraged the legislators and asked NCLR to intervene with Spanish media to prevent further losses. However, SB1070 was still warm off the printing presses. They capitulated too early. MALDEF and ACLU did a great job on Melendres vs. Arpaio, but were unable to eradicate SB1070 Section 2B: the “show me your papers” clause. There were no economic consequences to the state after most of the nonprofit sector and Hispanic chambers of commerce had prematurely called off the economic punishment to Arizona.

Therefore, day laborers and barrio defense committees exemplify the independent model to win future wars that are brewing nationally. Do not misunderstand me: the legal strategy and the nonprofit sectors are an essential part of the struggle but the decision-makers can only be the affected communities organized around their common interests. Nonprofits should facilitate access and assist the organizing in the barrios, the ghettos, the communities—but their role should never be to broker negotiations for them. They sell out every time to the next grant or corporate contribution arrives from their corporate friends.

Trump may try to buy off politicians like Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, but he will never buy off the community.

Always From the Ground Up

The 1960s nonprofit model of political organizing is irrelevant today. They have become appendages of the Foundation World and by extension of the corporate class in direct conflict with the interests of the communities they serve.

Nonprofit directors and staff have become the gentry at the service of the corporate state that reigns supreme over nature, human beings and earth resources. The counter to the model has been exemplified by the resistance at Standing Rock by the Lakota people against the most powerful banks and corporate America. However, a struggle of those dimensions cannot be maintained without permanently organized autonomous barrios, communities, clans, tribes and nations.

The overthrow of Arpaio is the proof: loosely organized day laborer corners (with the support of Tonatierra, and the National Day Labor Organizing Network) were able to resist Sheriff Joe for eight years. Despite heavy losses, deportations, betrayals, they can proudly stand up and be counted and say without fear that they were the ones who withstood Arpaio when everyone else vilified them, criticized them and finally came to their side when the ugly picture of injustice was broadcast throughout the world.

Crediting Arpaio’s defeat to electoral politics alone is an insult to Don Marcelino and the hundreds of day laborers who still stand every day at the same corners looking for work to feed their families.