Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no stranger to controversy. He has been the subject of numerous lawsuit, often finding himself on the losing end. He was also the first Arizona official to file a lawsuit against President Barack Obama's executive actions enacting immigration policy reforms. Now Sheriff Arpaio has agreed to dissolve his controversial immigration raid squad.
Sheriff Arpaio's immigration squad would raid businesses across Arizona's most populous county. The group of law enforcement officers would arrest immigrants for charges of using fake or stolen IDs, which they had used to get jobs. The program resulted in the arrests of more than 700 people. Arpaio has already been stripped of special federal immigration power by the courts. A federal judge also found the sheriff and his team were racially profiling Latinos during traffic stops, requiring racial-profiling training for the department.
According to an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Cecilia Wang, Arpaio “has proved that when he gets involved in immigration enforcement, he tramples on the U.S. Constitution, at great expense to taxpayers and public safety.” Another civil rights advocate, Lydia Guzman, is happy to see Arpaio's immigration raid squad disbanded. “Here's a guy who abused these laws and twisted them in such a sick way to do it for political gain,” said Guzman.
The Sheriff's controversial tactics have earned him supporters. Many voters grew frustrated with what they saw as poor enforcement of unlawful immigration by the federal agencies tasked with border enforcement. In the early 2000s, Arizona was the busiest immigration smuggling state in the country. Arizona is well-known for having some of the harshest anti-immigration laws in the country. The laws are popular with many of the state's residents, but they have been whittled down by the courts over time. Numerous parts of state law SB 1070 have been struck down as unconstitutional, leaving few of it's original provisions intact.
Sheriff Joe, also known by his moniker, “America's Toughest Sheriff,” likened his immigration sweeps to drug crime enforcement. “We don't go after the addicts on the street, we go after the peddlers,” said Arpaio in a 2005 interview. However, continuing that example, many claimed that the immigration sweeps were nabbing mostly those on the street, while leaving the peddlers relatively unscathed.
The state laws which were intended to punish smugglers and business that hired undocumented immigrants were often used against the immigrants themselves. The immigrant workers were relatively powerless against local law enforcement who enforced their own laws as well as a form of anti-immigration rules. Critics of Arpaio's actions argued that these squads targeted the immigrants while doing little to punish the businesses.
The sheriff's department's smuggling squad came under additional heavy scrutiny when allegations of shake downs came forward. Some immigrants were complaining of having At least one officer in Arpaio's squad was later found to have bags of material taken from immigrants in his home. Officer Armendariz also had a stash of drugs, and thousands of his video-recorded traffic stops. The officer was found to have hung himself after questions of his misconduct arose.