Adriana Flores-Torres, 38, a Mexican woman living in Arkansas who has been in the United States for 19 years “illegally” had been accused of selling copied (“pirated”) CDs of Latin music after police raided a flea market in her community. When she and the other four defendants appeared in court to be arraigned, three pled guilty, were presumably fined, and went home. Charges were dismissed for one of the defendants. But Flores-Torres pled “not guilty” because, she said, she wasn’t guilty. Her bail was revoked because she is an “illegal immigrant” and she was taken to a holding cell near the courtroom. It was Friday. The bailiff was supposed to contact corrections officers to escort Flores-Torres from the courthouse to the jail where she would be held pending trial, but he forgot. He’d been on the job only two months. He didn’t realize his mistake until he returned to work on Monday, opened the door of the tiny holding cell, 9-1/2 by 10-1/2 feet in size, and found Flores-Torres where she had been for the past four days without food, water, or a toilet. She had screamed and pounded on the steel doors of the cell, but everyone had gone home for the weekend and nobody heard her. When her thirst became intolerable, she drank her urine. She put a shoe under head to sleep.
Her family thought she had been jailed, and unjust though the jailing may have been, they believed her to be at least safe. The woman does not speak English, and her 14-year-old daughter interpreted for her in interviews she has given to the press. She was taken to the hospital after her ordeal, treated and released, and is resting at home.
The bailiff has been suspended for 30 days without pay. There are plans to install a light outside the cell which will be turned on when the cell is occupied.
Federal immigration officials, meanwhile, have put out a detainer order on Flores-Torres.
First of all, do the cops in Springville, Arkansas have anything better to do with their time than raid flea markets which are probably run and patronized by immigrants? I wonder how often they make these “sweeps” of flea markets in the full knowledge that if they can charge people there with something — anything — immigration officials will step in and finish the job they started and intended by issuing detainers and shipping people out of the country if they are here “illegally”. Never mind that they are poor, never mind that they speak little or no English and have difficulty explaining their situation, and never mind that they are torn from their families, spend time in jail when they are no threat to anyone anywhere. Who cares? They should’ve thought of that, I guess the sentiment is, before they came to this country, looking for a better life a couple, few decades ago.
Then, I wonder why one of the defendants had his or her charges dismissed. My guess is, this defendant spoke better English and could explain why he or she was not guilty, and the judge agreed and sent that person home. I wonder whether Flores-Torres could only communicate that she wasn’t guilty but could not adequately explain why. One would expect that in this part of the nation, interpreters would be on hand. One would expect that in the courtroom, someone was present who could interpret for Flores-Torres. Evidently no one stepped up because no one cared.
Media attention to the case has focused, absurdly, in my opinion, on the bailiff’s actions. I wouldn’t. He was new on the job and his boss says he is absolutely broken over this. Instead of demanding that the bailiff be fired, as though that is going to solve any important problem, or address any issue of significance in this situation, how about focusing on (1) police sweeps of immigrant persons’ flea markets (I have never heard, even one time, of any such “sweep” in any of the flea markets in the Pacific Northwest); (2) revoking bail and jailing persons who cannot speak English well without attempting to find someone to interpret what they have to say; (3) jailing persons accused of such things as the “crime” of selling copied CDs; (4) police harassment of immigrants which is actually intended to bring them across the radar of immigration officials; (5) jailing persons accused of this kind of “crime” as though they are some threat to society or as though they might flee, when they have families, homes and have lived in an areea for decades. How many mothers, sisters, wives have been deported because police somewhere decided to accuse them, ticket them, harass them, knowing they would be turning whole families’ lives upside down, and not only didn’t they care, they thought what they were doing was the right thing and all in a day’s work, because by all means, the country must be purged of these “illegals” who, you know, do all the work nobody else is willing to do, for less money than most people would consider taking.
I hope Flores-Torres sues the pants off the government agencies responsible for what happened to her and wins big. I hope she gets some relief, however momentary, of a life in which she must help to support her family by selling what she can find to sell in flea markets. I hope the charges against her are dropped, which it appears is going to be the case. The tragedy and outrage is that all any of this will mean is, Flores-Torres will be compensated for a mistake that could have cost her her life. None of it will change or even touch the horrific injustices immigrants of color face every day at the hands of police, judges, jailers, immigration officials, and a nation that by and large is indifferent to their plight.
Thanks to Lauren Asrael to alerting me to this woman’s story.