Mexican VIP tours Tent City Jail - East Valley Tribune: News

Mexican VIP tours Tent City Jail

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Posted: Friday, July 29, 2005 6:30 am | Updated: 9:34 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio pitched his tents to the Mexican government Thursday. About one of every eight inmates in the county detention system are citizens of Mexico, prompting a diplomat from that country to accept Arpaio’s offer to tour the infamous Tent City Jail.

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As Consul General Carlos Flores Vizcarra walked through the open-air jail west of downtown Phoenix, he asked his countrymen about their sleeping arrangements, food and other aspects of life behind razor wire.

"We had visited before, but this time around we received the invitation from Sheriff Arpaio to visit during the summertime, when it’s supposed to be harsher," Flores said.

By 10:40 a.m., the temperature near the ceiling of one of the tents was 140 degrees.

The county’s jail system houses 10,000 inmates. More than 1,300 are Mexican citizens. About 900 of those are in this country illegally.

More Mexicans soon could find themselves residing in Tent City, too, because Arpaio has volunteered his facilities to house illegal immigrants rounded up in central Arizona by the Department of Public Safety.

"Any time you mention Tent City to people, they shake in their boots," DPS spokesman Frank Valenzuela said. "But it’s a lot more comfortable than wandering around the desert."

During one of Flores’ sessions with Mexican inmates, he learned that while the food and heat are disliked, they hate the pink underwear and socks Arpaio requires all prisoners wear. Humiliating, the inmates called it.

Arpaio replied with a shrug.

"They can take me to the Supreme Court, but I’m never giving up the pink underwear," Arpaio said.

One of the reasons for the diplomat’s visit is Rodrigo Cervantes Zavala, a Mexican arrested last week in Puerto Vallarta on suspicion of killing three members of his exgirlfriend’s family near Queen Creek, then taking her two children to Mexico.

Cervantes is awaiting extradition, but Mexican authorities are leery of handing him over if prosecutors insist he face the death penalty if convicted.

"In Mexico, the death penalty doesn’t exist," Flores said. "The Mexican government wants that principle to be respected."

A message left with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Thursday was not immediately returned.

By the end of his tour, Flores said he had seen nothing that would alarm his government.

"The people are fed. The people get a night’s sleep. The people are not allowed to be harassed or victimized. They get medical assistance," he said.

And as for the inmate complaints?

Stated Flores, "This is a jail."

The county’s jail system houses 10,000 inmates. More than 1,300 are Mexican citizens. About 900 of those are in this country illegally.

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