By Lawrence Downes. NYT
We know, because a federal court says so
— Judge G. Murray Snow of United States District Court in Phoenix, in a
142-page opinion released on Friday, excoriated the Maricopa Sheriff’s
Office for violating the Fourth and 14th Amendment rights of Latinos by
illegally using race as a factor in questioning people in neighborhood
sweeps and traffic stops.
Judge Snow said that Arpaio and his 800 deputies must stop conducting
criminal investigations of people whom they suspect — because of their
skin color, accents, clothing or whatever other baseless reason — of
having violated civil immigration laws. The sheriff won’t face arrest or
fines; the civil lawsuit, Melendres v. Arpaio, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups on behalf of Latinos in Maricopa
County, sought only to get the abuses acknowledged and stopped.
So we know because of a judge’s ruling.
But we also know that Sheriff Arpaio has singled out Latinos for
unjustified abuse because the sheriff said so himself, as loudly and in
as many ways as he could.
He said it in press releases. He said it in news conferences. He said
it to Fox News and CNN. He said it to adoring crowds in retirement
communities outside Phoenix, who pressed him for photos and autographs
of his books. He said it in his books. He said it when he paraded
immigrant suspects through the streets of Phoenix, in chains and prison
stripes. And he said it every day to the hundreds of thousands of
brown-skinned residents of Maricopa County, where Latinos have long
understood: The sheriff is out to get you.
The sheriff acknowledged his lawlessness by stating, over and over,
his intention to go after “the illegals” without ever answering the
unanswerable question: What does an illegal immigrant look like?
Residents of Phoenix have been telling the world for years that the
sheriff’s office equated looking Latino with being illegal. Local
activists, journalists and a few brave elected officials and community
leaders raised the alarm long ago about the sheriff’s “crime
suppression” sweeps through Latino neighborhoods and communities, where
his deputies indiscriminately stopped drivers and raided day-labor
The sheriff has so far survived criticism and federal investigations; notoriety has helped stoke his popularity.
I’d like to know whether George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain,
Rick Perry, Kris Kobach and the other Republican politicians who have
praised his name, shown up at his “Tent City” jail or fought over his
endorsement will stand by him now. Or will they defend the rights of
free citizens to walk the streets in peace without fear of harassment by
armed government agents? It’s unlikely.
There is more to be done with Sheriff Arpaio, like getting rid of
him. There is a recall petition in Maricopa; the deadline is May 30, and
backers are praying that the ruling will lead to signatures.
Then there is the assigning of responsibility.
The sheriff’s office would like you to know that there is someone
else to blame: “It’s obvious it received bad training from the federal
government,” a Maricopa Sheriff’s Office lawyer, Tim Casey, told The
Times on Friday.
Judge Snow acknowledged that claim in 2011, when he granted
class-action status in the case to Latinos who had been stopped in
“Defendants assert that in training 287(g) officers, ICE informs them
that race or apparent ancestry may be used as one factor in evaluating
whether officers have reasonable suspicion to stop an individual,
although it cannot be considered the sole factor.”
“Whether or not such information is provided by ICE to local law
enforcement officers during their 287(g) training, the law in the Ninth
Circuit is clear: `Hispanic appearance is of little or no use in
determining which particular individuals among the vast Hispanic
populace should be stopped by law enforcement officials on the lookout
for illegal aliens.’”
Sheriff Arpaio is part of a bigger story. It is easy to lump him
together with the other Arizona immigration extremists, like Gov. Jan
Brewer, the disgraced former State Senator Russell Pearce, the
Minutemen. It’s true that he is a product of Arizona’s hot-headed
political culture. But he is also a creature of ICE and the Homeland
Security Department, which has relied heavily on partnerships with
deputized local law enforcement, despite warnings about Arpaio-style
policing all over the country.
Friday’s ruling is an opportunity to step back and see where the
enforcement overkill has gotten us. Arizona’s immigration law, SB1070,
has been battered in federal court, but is still on the books. States
such as Alabama continue to follow Arizona’s example with their own
radical laws. Federal judges have moved to halt the worst excesses by
state legislatures and lawmen, but only after much needless suffering
and unconstitutional abuses. The tide may have turned in the struggle
against racial profiling in Maricopa County, but the larger problem —
local law enforcement and the federal government together spreading an
ever-wider immigration dragnet — is still with us.
Link to Spanish version.