While Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio takes the stand today, responding to charges of racial profiling, local undocumented residents are planning a very visible presence. In a symbolic action outside the Sandra Day O’Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix, undocumented Arizonans will be speaking about their experiences living under Sheriff Arpaio’s reign and organizing in Arizona. They will call for other undocumented immigrants regardless of their age to come out of the shadows.
The case, Melendres v. Arpaio, is a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of Latino residents who are at risk of being racially profiled on traffic stops by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The trial began on last week and will continue through early August. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit have put forward extensive evidence showing that Arpaio has conducted operations based on individuals’ race or ethnicity rather than evidence of criminal activity, systematically violating the rights of Latino residents of Maricopa County in the name of immigration enforcement. Police officers under Arpaio have been accused of taking Arpaio’s hate driven focus in attacking immigrant communities while ignoring cases involving violence against women in the community, including sexual violence.
While there can be no doubt that Arpaio’s position of power has meant a reign of terror for all Latinos in Maricopa County, what has been getting lost in much of the coverage and discussion of the case is how the United States federal government empowered and emboldened the Sheriff’s actions. The U.S. Department of Justice issued a report calling out Arpaio’s discrimination specifically under the federal 287(g) program, allowing local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. While the Feds suspended his access to 287(g) (which was on the way to being defunded anyway), in the rest of the country, programs like Secure Communities are being expanded and made mandatory. Other deportation programs like the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) are being enforced more strongly in states like New York, bolstering record deportation numbers.
I’m worried about the forest of federal deportations being lost for the trees of what’s happening in Maricopa County. Arpaio is a despicable person who has used his power to viciously terrorize a community but he is a symptom of something much more sinister that is being swept under the proverbial rug during a contentious election season. We can’t suppress the symptoms if we are not willing to knock out the disease.