Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who became infamous for his extremely harsh stance on immigration and his carrot-and-stick enforcement policies has reportedly gone months without using his most controversial law enforcement tactics. His sweeps involved 200 deputies and volunteer members who would flood a designated area—generally those with a large Hispanic population—and make dozens of traffic stops and arrests. Illegal immigrants made up nearly 60% of the approximately 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps Arpaio has launched since January 2008 yet it has now been nearly eight months since the last one, making it the longest pause in more than four years. The main reason for this hiatus was not because he had a change of heart, it was because he and his posse are at the center of two separate federal lawsuits, one which comes from the U.S. Justice Department and accuses Arpaio of discriminating against Latinos.
Arpaio himself would have you believe that nothing has changed and that everything is going on as usual. “I haven’t stopped anything, I don’t know why anybody thinks we stopped,” he said in an attempt to downplay the reality of his accusations for wrongdoing. “I am not backing down regardless of them taking me to court. I am still enforcing immigration laws. They are being arrested and are going to jail,” he said in a venomous tone. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona say he has backed away from the patrols because they make it more difficult to build a proper defense in court. “It’s not in his best interest to conduct these high-profile sweeps before he is put on the stand to defend his practices,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. In its lawsuit the Justice Department claims that the sheriff’s office carried out a pattern of discrimination against Latinos and had a flagrant disregard for basic constitutional rights in his sweeps and treatment of immigrants throughout the entire process.
The second lawsuit, which was filed in federal court by a handful of Latinos, specifically focuses on the patrols and makes allegations based on some traffic stops that were disparately made against people with darker skin color or typical Hispanic features so as to check their immigration status. The plaintiffs are not seeking any money, instead, they want the sheriff’s office to enact changes to guard against this discriminatory policing. The Justice department has also been seeking an agreement with the sheriff’s office to train officers to make traffic stops and collect data on people as long as these activities are carried out lawfully and with complete regard to our nation’s constitutional protections that prohibit discrimination and unlawful infringes on people’s right to privacy. Unfortunately, Arpaio and his office are fighting both lawsuits, denying the charges and saying his patrols are within the law. Clearly, the sheriff remains defiant and will not step down without a fight. Let’s hope our nation’s courts can pull the brakes on his illicit behavior once and for all.