News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Obsessed with undocumented workers, Arizona sheriff ignores real crime

In April of this year, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched a massive sweep for undocumented immigrants in Guadalupe, Arizona, a city that is 51% Hispanic and 49% Native American. “Deputies stopped people for the slightest infractions—a cracked windshield, broken taillight, jaywalking — and asked whether they were in the country legally,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

Angered by the heavy-handed tactics of the self proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” then-mayor Rebecca Jimenez confronted Arpaio before the cameras of the media. “You came here under false pretenses,” Jimenez told Arpaio.

Infuriated by the public comeuppance, Sheriff Arpaio announced he would cancel his contract to provide Guadalupe with police protection. “If you don't like the way we operate, you get your own police department,” Arpaio announced.  

To the dismay of Guadalupe’s city council, after searching for months, they found no other municipality to replace Arpaio’s deputies. In September, as Guadlupe’s contract was about to expire, the city sued to keep its police protection in place.

How could a sheriff elected to maintain law and order leave a city under his jurisdiction without police protection? Those who know Arpaio were not surprised by his reaction.

The sheriff’s many detractors believe real law enforcement takes a backseat to publicity stunts with Arpaio. Among his other headline-hungry exploits was a massive prostitution round-up that involved 350 deputies for two months and resulted in 70 arrests, most of which were eventually declined for trial by the county prosecutor. Arpaio has also publicly boasted of being the first sheriff in the U.S. to house inmates in tents and feed them green bologna.

Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, one thing remains clear. In his grandstanding obsession with nabbing undocumented workers, Sheriff Arpaio is ignoring his obligation to the lives and property of the people he is sworn to protect. 

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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