In a federal court ruling last week, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was found guilty of racial profiling against Latinos, hopefully bringing to a close an era of fear and discriminatory policing in Arizona. Immigrant rights advocates also hope the ruling will send a strong message to other states' police forces regarding immigration and criminal enforcement methods.
The suit was brought by American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reports Alternet. U.S. Federal District Court Judge Murray Snow found that the Sheriff and his deputies had engaged in a clear pattern of discrimination in performing immigration enforcement, including notorious "sweeps" of workplaces. Such sweeps and raids have plagued Arizona's immigrant population, and have long created an atmosphere of fear.
Later commenting on his decision, Snow stated that Sheriff Arpaio's office "failed to have a clear policy that required execution of the saturation patrols and other enforcement efforts in a race-neutral manner, made no efforts to determine whether its officers were engaging in racially-biased enforcement during its saturation patrols, and failed to comply with standard police practices concerning record-keeping maintained by other law enforcement authorities engaged in such operations."
Inherent in the decision is the implication that Arpaio and his ilk had the intent to discriminate, which was explored at trial through Arpaio's own testimony and letters he received from constituents. The suit also focused on the intentional singling out of people of Hispanic origin for minor traffic violations.
Thus, the wholesale denouncement of Arpaio's operation should signal a sea change in the way immigration enforcement is carried out in Arizona and nation-wide. The decision was a clear message that this type of race-based discrimination will not be tolerated any longer. Cecilia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, told the Huffington Post that the ruling was "an important victory that will resound far beyond Maricopa County."
Arpaio's attorney has stated that his client intends to comply with the decision, but that he will appeal.