Joe Arpaio's Anti-Immigrant Witch-Hunts Defunded by the State of Arizona

Our guest blogger is Henry Fernandez, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund focusing on state and municipal policy.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s unconstitutional Latino witch hunt will no longer be subsidized by the State of Arizona. It turns out that while Arpaio had his deputies stopping anyone who looked like a Latino immigrant, there were 60,000 real felons running around Arizona. Apparently Governor Janet Napolitano has had enough. This week she took $1.6 million from Arpaio and redirected it to a new state-run fugitive task force to get real criminals off the street. Of course this was supposed to have been Arpaio’s job all along.

For those not familiar with Arpaio, he is a media hound, once even doing a pilot for a comedic Fox TV police reality show. On another occasion, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down his efforts to run his own reality show via webcam over the internet because it violated prisoner rights. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. How any of this clowning would have reduced crime remains unclear.

Without his own show, Arpaio encourages TV news cameras to ride along with his deputies as they hunt down undocumented immigrants. Lacking any particular insight into who is or is not an immigrant, Arpaio’s tactics have consistently disrupted the lives of Latino U.S. citizens and terrorized families in Phoenix and surrounding towns. He even requires that victims and witnesses of crime prove their immigration status. This absurdity actually encourages crime by ensuring that many immigrants will not report crime.

48,000 individuals charged with or convicted of felonies, including violent crimes, are currently on the loose in Maricopa County. Despite the obvious need to apprehend these people, Arpaio spends his time elsewhere. Cameras in tow, he sweeps into Latino neighborhoods with large numbers of deputies and stops as many people as possible on the basis of alleged motor vehicle violations, looking for undocumented immigrants. That these immigrants are generally hard working and not a threat to anyone, does not matter to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office. Nor does the fact that lots of citizens who do not realize their tail light is burned out are subjected to interrogation to prove their right to reside in the United States.

The Bush Administration’s Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) has cheered on Arpaio’s behavior. ICE’s lack of concern for the civil rights of Latinos is not surprising given the large number of lawsuits currently pending against ICE by Latino citizens who allege that their homes were invaded by gun wielding federal agents demanding that they prove their right to reside in the country in which they were born.

Reasonable elected officials in Arizona have long called for an end to Arpaio’s defiance of the Constitution. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has asked the FBI to investigate Arpaio for a “pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches and arrests.”

The Governor’s decision will make Arizona residents safer, even if it does not stop Sheriff Arpaio’s quest for attention.

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