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Immigrant Detained in Raid Sues Arizona Sheriff Arpaio’s Office for Mistreatment

More problems for Sheriff Joe: A former undocumented worker is accusing the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of negligence and mistreatment in a federal suit.

PHOENIX, Arizona – Celia Alejandra Alvarez, a former undocumented worker detained in a workplace raid, is accusing the  Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of negligence and mistreatment in a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit joins a long list of legal actions against Sheriff Joe Arpaio –currently under a  criminal grand jury investigation for abuse of power– and comes less than a week after he defiantly announced he will train   881 of his deputies to enforce immigration laws.

Alvarez’s attorneys filed the case before the U.S. District Court of Arizona on February 11. That was exactly a year after she was  arrested with 60 co-workers at landscaping contractor Handyman Maintenance Inc. (HMI) for working with false documents.

“I’m not interested in the money I could get out of this,” Alvarez, 32, told Feet in 2 Worlds. “What I want is to denounce the abuse, cruelty and inhumanity of the way in which we are treated by Arpaio.”

In the lawsuit, Alvarez alleges deputies wearing ski masks found her hiding, “lifted her off her feet, and slammed her face into a wall,” causing her injuries on her face, jaw and teeth. A deputy allegedly hit her hard with a clipboard for trying to speak to another detainee. During the three months she spent in detention, Alvarez claims that she didn’t receive proper medical treatment or medicine for the resulting pain.

“He is going to go after more people and that is why we can’t remain silent,” she said. “He should train his deputies so they know they are not supposed to mistreat people.”

Arpaio’s recent decision to escalate his immigration crackdown – his deputies arrested 35 people Tuesday– has become the target of criticism by legal scholars that argue he is operating outside the scope of the law in trying to play the role of the federal government.

In October, the  Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revoked part of the agreement –known as 287 (g) for the legal provision that permits it– that allowed 160 Maricopa County deputies to enforce immigration laws. But the sheriff has remained defiant ever since.

“We are going to continue our enforcement,” he said during a recent press conference. “My deputies can enforce the illegal immigration laws without the 287 (g) agreement.”

Arpaio also claims he can continue to use Arizona state laws to go after workers, which is what happened in Alvarez’s case.

The HMI sweep was part of Arpaio’s controversial enforcement of  Arizona’s employer sanctions law .

The State Legislature passed that law to investigate companies that knowingly hire undocumented labor. But the Sheriff’s and Maricopa County Attorney’s offices have used it to arrest workers on criminal charges of identity theft for using false documents to work.

Alvarez, the mother of four U.S. citizens, worked under the false name of Francisca Perez Mendoza. She worked for three years at HMI, picking up trash for $6 an hour. The company had a contract with Maricopa County for over ten years: some of the services it provided included landscaping at county buildings, including Arpaio’s jails.

Through her cleaning job, Alvarez became familiar with the outside of the Estrella jail for women. She never expected that one day she would find herself inside its walls.

She describes the experience both as traumatic and humiliating.

She said on arrival she was forced to strip in front of male guards. She had to take off the garments she wore as a member of the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to put on the black and white stripes uniform used in the jail.