Joe Arpaio served as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. This was a position that he treasured and hoped to hold onto for as long as he could. He even went so far as to ask his fellow officers to dig up scandalous information on his political rivals so that he could continue to win elections. No matter how many laws Arpaio broke or how repulsive his commentary about Latino residents of Arizona was, there seemed to be no end in sight for his terrible tenure as sheriff.
Some people on the far-right side of the aisle are almost fanatical in their support of Arpaio. It seemed that the more he promised to do whatever it took to locate and arrest undocumented Latinos in Arizona, the better Arpaio fared among the most conservative proponents of strict immigration policies in the U.S. Arpaio would be the first to tell you that he believes that racial profiling is the way to go in figuring out which residents of Arizona are living and working there without the proper paperwork. His nasty and racist portrayal of Latino people within Arizona added fuel to the fire in the national debate over immigration. Arpaio’s use of divisive language and exaggerated anecdotes struck fear in the hearts and minds of Americans who worried that undocumented immigrants would take their jobs and suck the government dry of social services. Of course, this could not be further from the truth, but nothing stopped Arpaio in capitalizing on these unfounded fears and using them to retain political power for as long as he could.
A federal judge finally put a stop to this madness by issuing an opinion that racial profiling was an unacceptable way to deal with the perceived illegal immigration problem. Arpaio was told directly by a judge that he was not allowed to tell police officers that they could simply arrest a person for being perceived as an undocumented immigrant. Many people were shocked that it even had to get to the point of a court order instructing Arpaio that he could not toss out constitutional right in his quest to polarize the public on the subject of illegal immigration. However, it would soon turn out that not even a federal judge could keep Arpaio from spreading his hate.
Arpaio hired a team of creative and unscrupulous attorneys who fervently argued that it was impossible for Arpaio to follow the judge’s order because it was not clear enough in what it demanded. The convoluted argument on Arpaio’s behalf was that the order was in conflict with Arpaio’s official duty to uphold the laws of the county, state and country. They tried to argue that there was just no way that Arpaio could faithfully fulfill his duties as sheriff and do what the judge asked at the same time.
This argument was soon dismissed by another federal judge. Arpaio was held in criminal contempt of the previous court order because he so boldly chose to completely ignore its most basic command. While other people might see this as a sign that the fight was lost, Arpaio renewed his vigor in fighting back. Even though he is no longer a sheriff at this point, Arpaio is still considered one of the most outspoken supporters of zero tolerance on illegal immigration matters. There were plenty of equally delusional supporters rushing to stand behind Arpaio in figuring out a way to dodge answering for the consequences of disobeying the law so openly. One of the most controversial and high-powered supporters of Arpaio is President Trump. He moved in rapid response to Arpaio’s conviction and issued a pardon so that Arpaio would not see the inside of a jail cell. This was met with thunderous applause from a select group, but the presidential pardon was widely viewed as a harmful and misguided measure by President Trump. Many people thought that the Department of Justice should have at least been spoken to before announcing such a rare and exceptional decision. There was simply no getting through to President Trump on this issue, which comes as no surprise to his most knowledgeable critics.
Given the unpopularity of the presidential pardon that Arpaio just received, there is good news for the overall fight against racism and bigotry in this country. It has been a wakeup call to many people who never thought that Arpaio’s policies could get this far out of hand for so long and be met with virtually no consequences. Anyone who was previously on the fence about the immigration battle is now starting to see the light in how dangerous it can be to ignore the racist actions of public officials like Arpaio.
Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey have been speaking out for years on Arpaio’s threat to Latino rights across the U.S. They are the founders of the Frontera Fund, a dynamic organization dedicated to enlightening the public about Arpaio and serving the Latino community. The Frontera Fund was started with the proceeds from an almost $4 million civil settlement that Larkin and Lacey received as a result of their false imprisonment by Arpaio.
Arpaio was brazen enough to throw Larkin and Lacey in jail for a supposed violation of a court order telling them to turn over all information that they had collected on Arpaio during a journalistic investigation of his crimes in office. Their refusal was all Arpaio was waiting for to throw the book at them. This was such an obvious violation of the First Amendment, and this action was met with a swift response from the journalism community in the form of negative press and outrage.
Larkin and Lacey now speak out as often as possible against the culture of fear that Arpaio has created in Maricopa County and beyond. They strive to educate people on the dangers of ignoring Arpaio and are fantastic sources of information on how average citizens can help out in standing up for the rights of the Latino residents of Arizona.