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Sheriff Joe Got Busted

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s toughest Sheriff”, claims that harassing Latino immigrants is good for America. His actions, however, are pretty far from what America is all about. Reports of abuse by Sheriff Arpaio are well-documented: whether it’s going into immigrant communities to hunt for unauthorized workers, or humiliating detainees by making them wear pink underwear and walk in the streets with chains dressed as prisoners of war, or live in suffocatingly-hot tents that Arpaio himself equated to concentration camps.

So it was very refreshing to see that, last week, the Justice Department (DOJ) accused his office of engaging in “unconstitutional policing” by exercising racial profiling against Latinos. In a 22-page report, the DOJ argued that Arpaio has created in his department “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos.” The report portrays an office staffed by poorly trained deputies who target people only on the basis of dark looking skin rather than their having been accused of committing a crime. Perhaps most importantly, there is definitive documentation of the mistreatment of immigrants detained in jails over his jurisdiction, and this mistreatment is particularly harsh against those that do not speaking English. 

The DOJ report is actually only the latest documentation of wrong-doing by Sheriff Arpaio: according to recent claims by the Arizona Republic, Arpaio’s office has misspent close to $100 million in taxpayer dollars during the past five years in order to bankroll luxurious trips to Alaska and Disneyland and expensive accommodations for high- ranking employees. According to the Republic, his office has also failed to adequately investigate more than 400 cases of sexual-abuse, particularly in cases where unauthorized immigrants have been the victims.

After the release of the DOJ report, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ended the sheriff 287(g) jail-monitoring program and denied him of access to Secure Communities data. Clearly, this decision was long overdue – not only because the Sherriff’s office participation in this program and its access to DHS data facilitated his policies of harassment, but also because Arpaio himself has been defying on a non-stop basis the authority of the Federal government and encouraging other sub-national jurisdictions to do so.

Yet, one gets the feeling that there is still so much to be done. For one thing, there are no signs that Arpio will leave his position any time soon, much less be prosecuted. For instance, despite clear evidence that his office has committed major constitutional violations, he is still considered a role model in some conservative circles and praised by national leaders who have sought his political endorsement.  For another, there are many other jurisdictions where immigrants’ basic human rights are continuously violated, even if these stories do not get the same press as the violations committed by Arpaio’s office.

Clearly, Arpaio’s actions are at fundamental odds with basic American values of tolerance and respect for human rights.  We could turn the current state of the immigration debate completely upside down just by thinking of solutions that are motivated by these values and that support the creation of trust bonds between receiving communities and immigrant communities.