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"Sheriff Joe and I, Putting the Power of Love to the Test" By Mar Cárdenas

I have repeatedly been asked why I told Arpaio, “I love you” when he came to visit us on the night that I, along with 82 others got arrested for civil disobedience on the Day of Non-Compliance, July 29th in Phoenix, Arizona. The seemingly spontaneous act was not such thing. It was an act of compassion inspired by my knowledge of his less-than-ideal childhood and by the actions of a young Latina named Gaby Pacheco.

I remember reading a news story about a group of undocumented students who dared visit Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his own office last June. Sheriff Joe, the self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” had a prime opportunity to arrest them and charge them with “Unlawful Presence in the United States”. As the students hugged him and talked to him, the hearts of many immigration rights activists around the country pounded in suspense, awaiting Arpaio’s reaction.

These students, known as the Dream Walkers, are famous for trekking by foot from their homes in Miami, Florida to Washington, D.C. earlier this year and confronting ICE agents and sheriffs all along the way, asking voters for support of the DREAM Act so that students who were brought into this country at a very young age can have the opportunity to go to college and practice their professions upon graduation.

As these courageous young people exited the office, Stephen Lemons, a reporter for the Phoenix New Times, asked them if Arpaio had left scorch marks on them. He then asked Gaby Pacheco why she embraced the man who's unleashed a tsunami of terror on area Hispanics, she replied, "I hugged him because I wanted him to feel the pain that our community has been feeling," she said. "But also to tell him that as a human being I don't fear him. I told him with tears coming down that in his heart he has good, and that he has the ability to come back, you know. He was astray and doing these horrible things to our community, but he has the power in his heart to come back and fight with us against these unjust laws."

I remember wondering how I would react if I were just inches away from Joe... Would I let all the anger I felt dictate my actions, or would I do the very thing he would least expect?

Carlos Roa, another DREAM walker declared, “Today is a new day for immigrants across the nation, we will no longer live in fear. We will no longer live in terror of detention and deportation. We will no longer tolerate the injustices perpetuated by this oppressive system.”

An online biography reads, “Arpaio is the child of immigrants from Naples, Italy. His mother died during his birth. His father had little interest in raising the child, leaving his upbringing to whatever family members were willing to take him in. As a result of his father’s abandonment, Joe Arpaio spent his childhood being shuffled back and forth between different families.”

As I was mouthing the words, I made a heart with my hands and pressed it against the small window of our cell. All my cellmates, UUs and non-UUs started quietly singing “We Shall Overcome”.

I firmly believe that Joe will remember our brief exchange and I can only hope that the small seed that Gaby planted in his heart will continue to grow and that we will see his reign of terror come to an end very soon.

May it be so.