Joe Arpaio held the position of Maricopa County Sheriff for decades before he was finally ousted from his office. Even though his office and personal activities were local to Arizona, Arpaio gained a national presence for his controversial and troubling views on immigration. At best, Arpaio could be considered tough on illegal immigration. At worst, he has been called a racist, bigot and dirty politician. Arpaio brought on all of this attention himself and embraced it with open arms. He loved being known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” a title he earned by cracking down on immigration in Arizona in very illegal and unconstitutional ways. While Arpaio earned praise from hard-liners on illegal immigration, he was mostly the subject of harsh criticism for his willingness to break the law and throw out constitutional rights in harassing the Latino community of Arizona.
There was a collective cheer by those who support immigrant rights in the U.S. when it appeared that Joe Arpaio was going to be held accountable for his misgivings and violations of constitutional protections. He was the subject of a civil trial, which turned on whether Arpaio’s office was allowed to use racial profiling as a way to identify and then arrest residents of Arizona. Arpaio was transparent in his announcement that racial profiling was an effective way to deter illegal immigration in the U.S. and that he would do his best to use this tool as a way to round up undocumented immigrants in Arizona. Under the scary and draconian methods endorsed by Arpaio, someone in Arizona could be detained by police officers just for being suspected of not being in the country legally. This struck fear in the hearts of Arizona residents and watchdog groups across the U.S.
A federal judge had a very common sense approach to putting Arpaio in his place and curbing this horrendous policy. Arpaio was told he was no longer able to rely on racial profiling as a way to arrest supposedly undocumented immigrants. This was especially true if Arpaio’s suspect had not even been suspected of participating in a criminal activity. Arpaio did not even blink before announcing in the national press that he would not follow this judicial order because he believed that it was not specific enough in instructing him how to do his job. He thought that the powers afforded to law enforcement to enforce the U.S. laws in the constitution was enough to protect him from having to listen to a federal judge. This proved to be an incorrect position and landed Arpaio back in court again.
When asked by another federal judge to explain why he thought that he was not subject to following court orders, Arpaio responded that he did not believe that the order could actually be obeyed as written and prevented him from doing the job that he was elected to do. No judge was buying this flimsy argument, and Arpaio got exactly what had been coming to him for years. He was finally convicted of criminal contempt for his refusal to listen to court orders and change the way that the Maricopa County police offers interact with Latino civilians.
This victory for Latino rights was only short lived. In the weeks following his criminal conviction, President Trump came rushing to Arpaio’s side. President Trump announced that Arpaio would be rewarded for his unconstitutional tactics and would receive a presidential pardon. This means that Arpaio will not actually serve any time behind bars for his crimes. Some leaders in the human rights community fear that a lack of jail time served by Arpaio will undermine the message that his criminal conviction was supposed to convey. It seems that Arpaio will yet again get away with behaving however he pleases, and the Latino community of Arizona is left shaking their heads at how someone in power could get away with such a blatant disregard for the law.
All progress is not lost with the presidential pardon of Arpaio because it has mobilized many supporters of the Latino community to recharge themselves and fight even harder to uphold immigrant rights. Some of the people who have fought the longest and hardest to support the Latino population of Arizona are Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey. They have encountered their own personal battle with Arpaio and came out on the other side to fight back even harder.
Larkin and Lacey are journalists by trade and have a stellar reputation. They were on the trail of some of the most egregious crimes committed by Arpaio in blackmailing and extorting his political opponents. The closer they got to uncovering the truth, the more they were persecuted by Arpaio. He eventually ended up tossing them behind bars under the pretense of refusing to obey a court subpoena to turn over their personal belongings, including research materials they had put together on Arpaio’s bad deeds. Larkin and Lacey did not have to wait long to be released from jail and promptly filed suit against Arpaio and his department for their false arrest.
Thankfully, Larkin and Lacey prevailed in their civil lawsuit, and Maricopa County was forced to pay them more than $3.75 million on Arpaio’s behalf. There was no way that Lacey and Larkin were going to keep this money for themselves when they recognized that there was so much more work to be done in keeping Arpaio in check. He showed no signs of leaving his office in the immediate future, which gave Lacey and Larkin the idea to start a foundation to protect others against his policies.
The Frontera Fund was one of their proudest achievements. It stands for defending Latino rights and has donated millions of dollars to sister organizations that share its mission statement. Larkin and Lacey are now ramping up their fight in solidarity with their Latino brothers and sisters. The latest development in the Arpaio saga only serves as further proof that there is much more work to be done by people who understand that immigrants are not the enemy.