PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was dealt a heavy blow when a
federal judge imposed a long list of restrictions on his trademark immigration
patrols, crimping his years-long crackdown on people who are in the country
illegally but not forbidding him altogether from enforcing the state’s
A judge ruled on Friday that Arpaio’s office has systematically singled out
Latinos in its immigration patrols and that sheriff’s deputies unreasonably
prolonged the detentions of people who were pulled over, marking the first
finding by a court that the agency racially profiles people. U.S. District
Judge Murray Snow has forbidden the sheriff’s office from using race as a factor
in deciding whether to stop a vehicle with a Latino occupant and from detaining
or arresting vehicle passengers who are Latino on only the suspicion that they
are in the country illegally.
Cecillia Wang, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who was part of the
team that pressed the case against the sheriff, said Arpaio can still enforce
state immigration laws, but he can’t do it in the racially discriminatory way
his officers have used in the past.
Sheriff’s deputies patrolling freeways in metro Phoenix can still pull over an
obvious smuggling vehicle that is packed with immigrants, but his officers can’t
detain and arrest Latinos only because they are believed to be in the country
illegally, Wang said. “The sheriff needs to wake up to the fact that he can’t
violate people’s rights,” Wang said.
Arpaio’s office had no immediate comment Tuesday, and his attorney, Tim Casey,
didn’t immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press. Casey said last
week that an appeal was planned within the next 30 days.
Republican state Sen. Al Melvin of Tucson defended Arpaio on Tuesday after
Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix, a longtime Arpaio critic, chastised
Gov. Jan Brewer and other lawmakers on the Arizona Senate floor for remaining
silent on Arpaio’s tactics. “I am confident that in the end he will be proven
not guilty on these charges of racial profiling,” Melvin said. “We don’t want
racial profiling, and I believe he is not guilty of that.”
A group seeking a recall election against Arpaio said the ruling has drawn out
more supporters for their cause. The group faces a Thursday afternoon deadline
for turning in more than 335,000 valid voter signatures needed to force a recall
election against the sheriff. “This is the vindication they were looking for,”
said recall organizer Lilia Alvarez.
Recall organizers haven’t attracted deep-pocketed donors and instead are
relying on volunteers rather than paid professionals to sign up supporters. They
face tough odds in getting enough signatures to force an election.
Friday’s ruling, which was made in a lawsuit filed by a handful of Latinos,
served as a precursor to a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department, which also
alleges racial profiling in Arpaio’s immigration patrols. The Department of
Justice, however, alleges broader civil rights violations, such as allegations
that Arpaio’s office retaliates against its critics and punishes Latino jail
inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish.
David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies
racial profiling and wrote a book on the subject, said the judge presiding over
the Department of Justice case isn’t bound by Friday’s decision and that the
racial profiling allegations and evidence could differ between both cases.
Still, the latest decision will loom large for participants in the Department
of Justice case.
“It will likely go into the minds of the lawyers in whatever evidence they
decide to present,” Harris said.