by lyle e davis
He is called America’s Toughest Sheriff. It is a title that is well earned.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has a lot of critics. You have critics when you step on toes. And when you get things done. And when you arrest people for breaking the law. Arpaio was elected again (for the fifth time) in November of last year for another four year term. He’s been in office for just over 16 years now.
Why is 'Sheriff Joe' so popular?
Listen to one of the speeches the 75-year-old frequently gives, weaving his personal story with the issues, and one can see why he keeps getting re-elected.
"Born and raised in Springfield, Mass., my mother and father came from Italy legally," he says to a crowd at Leisure World, a retirement community in conservative Mesa, Arizona. The audience applauds.
"We don't train the officers to speak Spanish to talk to them. They're in the United States of America in my jails so they're gonna learn English." More applause.
"I think he's wonderful. He's tough and puts those kids in jail," says Betty Wilson. "I think he's down to earth and doing what he needs to do," agrees Donna Kurr, also a Leisure World resident.
Arpaio's approval ratings have been falling a bit, down from an astronomical 80 percent to somewhere in the '60s. Still, that’s considerably higher than President Bush enjoyed at the end of his term . . . and a lot higher than most elected Congress critters. He is even higher than President Obama’s poll figures of 59%, (and Obama is in the “honeymoon” period) and Congress’ rating of 28%. (Pew Research Center Poll, 3/18/09).
Why is he so popular? Could it be that he enforces the law? Could it be because he completes his missions on time, and within budget. Sometimes below budget?
Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio hasn't always been "America's Toughest Sheriff," although it sometimes seems that way. What he has also been is a U.S. Army M.P. in France, a cop on the beat on the mean streets of Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, a federal narcotics agent, and a top D.E.A. official. But it has been as Arizona's Maricopa County's sheriff that he has earned his law enforcement notoriety.
During the course of Arpaio’s controversial 3-year-old immigration crackdown, which has included stops of vehicles on rural highways to look for smugglers, crime sweeps in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods and worksite raids that have netted the arrests of about 1,500 illegal immigrants, he and his department in just the last two years of that illegal immigration crackdown have arrested 2723 illegal aliens on both state and federal human smuggling laws. The Sheriff’s jail officials have investigated 22,616 inmates who were ultimately determined to be illegal aliens and subsequently placed under ICE holds ensuring they would not be released onto the streets of this county.
Let’s see now. A certain group of criminals is known to break certain laws. A certain law enforcement agency therefore targets that criminal group. Certain agitators for that group complain that they are being targeted. A certain president intervenes on the side of the lawbreakers against that enforcement agency.
That all makes sense, right?
Well, it makes sense if the lawbreakers, their kin, and associates constitute a significant voting bloc, if the enforcer is “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Maricopa County’s and Phoenix’ Joe Arpaio, and if the interlopers are representatives of an attorney general named Eric Holder and the president is a guy named Obama.
Sheriff Arpaio and his approach to enforcing the laws of the State of Arizona is fundamentally to enforce the laws of Arizona, which are in place because the federal government is loath to enforce federal laws relating to the same crime: illegal entry by foreigners into the United States, part of which is Arizona. In so doing, he has, once again, incurred the wrath of the feds for picking up the slack and showing the feds how to do their jobs.
The sheriff was the subject of a previous article in Arizona, “Sheriff Joe and His Enemies,” which focused on his various enemies, who range from resident representatives of illegal aliens to the ACLU and other extra-Arizonan defenders of criminal rights. Those defenders have now been joined by none other than President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, which is headed by none other than Attorney General Eric Holder who also was the subject of a previous report locally concerning his reference to America as “a nation of cowards:”
Specifically, our Justice Department has put Sheriff Arpaio on notice that it “will investigate his department over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures. . . . investigators will focus on alleged patterns of police discrimination based on national origin.”
It would appear that the federal government is intervening with a state entity trying to enforce federal and state statutes and, in the process, keep Arizona and the nation safe from drug smugglers, other criminals, and possible terrorist elements. Compounding that interference, Obama, Holder, and the Justice Department seem intent on preventing Sheriff Arpaio from looking for those who may have violated the law in the communities in which they most likely congregate, which happen to be Hispanic areas.
Arizona’s long border with Mexico, an Hispanic country, has long been problematic because of illegal crossings by Hispanics who can head for safe houses in Hispanic neighborhoods after stealing across our national boundary. From there, they are free to commit murders, thefts, and mayhem. There haven’t been many reports of Polish, Irish, or German illegals sneaking across that border so staging sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods, which Arpaio does, would seem a wise idea.
So, too, is the sheriff’s segregating incarcerated illegal aliens from other prisoners, although they are accorded the same rights as other prisoners, including being fed two fifteen cent meals a day, sans salt and pepper, and including being required to dress in pink. I don’t know if they are necessarily pretty in pink but that color is believed to have a calming influence.
The Justice Department hasn’t released any comment on pink underwear and handcuffs but does contend that such tactics as crime sweeps in Hispanic areas constitutes ethnic profiling and “discrimination based on national origin.”
Famous bank robber, Willy Sutton, was once asked why he robbed banks and responded that was “where the money was.” Likewise, Sheriff Arpaio raids Hispanic neighborhoods because that’s where the Hispanics are. That seems pretty reasonable to me since the vast bulk of illegals in Maricopa County are Hispanics, even if Eric Holder can’t see the logic in that. It’s not the dreaded profiling, it’s using common sense.
We will just have to wait and see how all this plays out as the Obama administration continues its effort to undermine national security and the security of Sheriff Arpaio’s county.
Closely related to that fiasco in Phoenix is the warning by Texas Republican Congressman John Culberson that the Mexican border represents, “the front lines of an undeclared war unlike any we’ve ever seen on the southern border probably since 1916,” when General Pershing was sent into Mexico to rid the region of Pancho Villa and his roving bands of fellow marauders. Something else Culberson said could have been directed to our leaders in Washington: “The point is, is that there are wildly different levels of enforcement, . . . we found the solution in Texas, and it’s real simple. It’s law enforcement.”
Sheriff Joe Arpaio now also faces a congressional hearing into complaints that deputies are discriminating against Latinos while enforcing immigration laws. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that next month's hearing will be held jointly with the chairmen of the immigration, crime and Constitution subcommittees.
"We're not trying to persecute or take advantage of anybody," Conyers said recently at a news conference. "Law-enforcement officers have a very important and valuable function. The problem is they can't interpret the law their own way to harass or use racial strategies to determine who they arrest." A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee said Arpaio will be invited to testify. A date has not been set.
Congressional committees often hold hearings to direct a public spotlight on an issue that their chairmen deem important. The Judiciary Committee has the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony or the release of documents. The panels compile a record of the proceedings and sometimes issue reports of their findings.
Arpaio said he has no intention of flying to Washington to testify. Arpaio said he questions the motivation of Conyers, who last month joined three other judiciary-panel members in asking for a federal investigation of Arpaio's immigration sweeps.
About the Congressional Hearings, Arpaio said: "Why don't they wait for the federal investigation? Why do they want hearings now?" Arpaio asked. "Because it's a political situation. They want to keep putting the pressure on me, hoping that I go away. . . . and that is not going to happen."
Arpaio said he would welcome Conyers and the other Washington lawmakers to inspect his operation.
"I want them to come here. I'll even pay their airline ticket," Arpaio said. "I want him to come here.
"I will take him to the tents. I will take him on these crime-suppression operations. I will fill him in on the truth. And then when he has his hearings, he's going to have a lot of good background to talk about if he wants to do it truthfully."
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Constitution subcommittee, said Arpaio's "malicious and vigilante practices are not immigration enforcement."
"On the contrary," he said, "this is abuse of police power and a violation of federal law."
But Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., another member of the committee, said Conyers routinely uses the panel in politically motivated ways.
"It's hard for much to surprise me anymore, but this, in my judgment, is just another witch hunt by the liberals on the House Judiciary Committee," Franks said.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said he does not believe Arpaio's deputies have engaged in racial profiling as part of his immigration crackdowns. Thomas' office wrote the legal guidelines for Arpaio's crime-suppression operations. In those sweeps last spring, Arpaio saturated neighborhoods he deemed to be high crime areas with scores of deputies to stop traffic violators.
"From what I know, his office has complied with the direction of our legal guidelines," Thomas said. "If he followed those guidelines, we believe they would have complied with the law."
Sheriff Arpaio’s “Tent City”
It appears that political pressure was brought to bear in key Congressional leaders, such as Conyers by an organizatin known as ‘America’s Voice,’ a Washington based group seeking support for illegal immigrants. They presented petitions calling for an investigation of Arpaio to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Conyers, other members of Congress and national immigration advocate leaders.
It was, in fact, Conyers and his colleagues who sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (former Governor of Arizona) demanding an investigation of Arpaio’s alleged misconduct.
Arpaio received an Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract through the so-called 287(g) program, implemented under President Bush, which authorizes local lawmen to arrest immigrants without cause. The Justice Department letter calls for a review of Arpaio's contract to ensure it is not "used to justify the racial profiling of any resident of Arizona."
Joe is under fire again, as if he ever isn't, for his policy of detaining illegal immigrants. Supporters argue that Joe Arpaio doesn't ignore the law, he enforces it, as is his responsibility. The law breakers, on the other hand, want him not to enforce it and showed up in Phoenix recently to protest against Sheriff Joe. Following that recreation, one of their leaders, Salvador Reza, said in a press release, "We are excited to see such a strong and peaceful showing of opposition to the wrong-headed policies of Sheriff Joe Arpaio . . . 5,000 [media and police estimated the total to be 1,000] marched today to make sure that the abuses that we've suffered under for far too long move from the local to being dealt with on the national level as well."
Arpaio supporters argue that there are so many things wrong with that whole picture that it almost defies description. Illegal aliens march and protest? Illegal aliens attack an elected official's enforcement of legal statutes as "wrong-headed?" Illegal aliens claim they are abused? Illegal aliens want to ensure their grievances are addressed locally and nationally?
Someone, they say, should buy Reza and his companeros a dictionary, have them look up the definition of "illegal," and then remind them that they broke our laws by entering on our soil whether by swimming, wading, or trucking across the Rio Grande, by sailing in, or by flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor or Yuma or Prescott airports and then slithering off into America's woodwork.
Someone should also remind them that had they committed their crime of illegal entry in other countries they may have been shot or, as in Mexico, detained in the unfriendly confines of a Mexican prison or, for the lucky ones, summarily deported.
Not surprisingly, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is fighting back. In his effort to enforce America’s and Arizona’s immigration laws, he refuses to be intimidated by Justice Department threats of investigation. To emphasize his resolve, Arpaio has advised the Mexican Consul General’s office that now they will have to wait in line like everyone else to see Mexican prisoner-nationals:
Arpaio Rescinds Special Arrangement with Mexican Consulate Despite DOJ Investigation, Arrests of Illegal Immigrants Continue
(Phoenix, AZ) Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has informed the Consul General of Mexico that the consulate staff no longer will have any special privileges when visiting jailed Mexican citizens but will be treated like any other visiting consulate.
The change in policy comes as a result of a letter sent on February 23, 2009, by Consul General Carlos Flores Vizcarra’s in which he echoed complaints previously raised by
local and national critics and groups opposed to the Sheriff’s immigration enforcement policies.
Arpaio says, “For years Flores and I have had a good working relationship. I even extended special visitation status to his staff to ease their ability to communicate with incarcerated Mexican citizens. As of today, I am rescinding those favors. Instead of raising any genuine concerns, the Consul General chose to adopt the lies and distortions of the illegal immigration groups which attack me at every opportunity.”
Arpaio says he finds complaints about his jail conditions by the Mexican consulate ironic. As the former Regional Director for the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration in Mexico City, Arpaio has first hand knowledge of the jail and prison conditions in Mexico.
“If anyone has been disingenuous here, it is Consul General Flores. Look at the deplorable way Mexican citizens and foreigners are treated in that country’s jails and prison,” Arpaio says. “Look at the violence erupting all along the Mexican border between drug cartels, human smugglers and the regional law enforcement authorities.”
Beyond the fact that consulate staff will no longer have 24 hour access to jailed Mexican inmates, Arpaio also informed Flores of the Sheriff’s intent to seek reimbursement of the housing costs associated with Mexican nationals currently incarcerated in Maricopa County jail facilities.
Despite the displeasure from the Consul General and the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that the Sheriff’s Office will be investigated for civil rights violations, Sheriff Arpaio reiterates his commitment to enforcing all state and federal laws against illegal immigration as long as the laws to do so remain in place.
Just after receiving the letter from the Department of Justice, the Sheriff sent out his
deputies who made three traffic stops netting 26 illegal aliens arrests, 15 of whom were booked into jail on felony human smuggling charges. The remaining were turned over to ICE, pursuant to the Sheriff’s 287-G agreement.
Arpaio’s history first attracted national notice when on August 3, 1993, he started the nation's largest Tent City for convicted inmates. Over 2000 convicted men and women serve their sentences in a canvas incarceration compound. It is a remarkable success story and has garnered the attention of government officials and media worldwide. The same is true for his chain gangs which work six days a week contributing thousands of dollars of free labor to the community. The male chain gang and the world's first ever female chain gang clean streets, paint over graffiti, and bury the indigent in the county cemetery.
Equally impressive are the Sheriff's get tough policies. Arpaio doesn't believe in coddling criminals, frequently saying that jails should not be country clubs. He banned smoking, coffee, pornographic magazines, movies and unrestricted television in all jails. He has the cheapest meals in the country too. The average inmate meal costs under 20 cents.
Arpaio's statement comparing prison conditions to the hardships of soldiers fighting in Iraq "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths" - was originally cited in a July 25, 2003, article from the Associated Press.
It should be noted that while Sheriff Joe Arpaio obviously has plenty of ardent supporters, he also has vehement detractors, including the Phoenix New Times, which has chronicled what it calls Arpaio's "serious abuse of power" for over a decade, and a political action committee devoted to recalling him.
On March 10, 2008, it was reported that inmates at "Tent City" in South Phoenix, Arizona, generally wear pink underwear. This is not by choice, but a uniform requirement, courtesy of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The undergarments are only one of Arpaio's many innovative jail policies. Broiling summer heat or chilly desert winter, all 2,000 inmates live outside, sleeping on cots in old canvas tents. For food, the sheriff serves inmates baloney sandwiches.
Arpaio's tactics — many of which specifically target illegal immigrants — have kept him in the news pretty much since he took office back in 1993.
"Everything I do is publicized. When I go to the toilet it's publicized," he says. Of course, not everyone likes his approach. "These demonstrators have placards. I'm a Nazi, KKK. But you know what? The more they go after me, the more I'm in their face."
Arpaio is also effective at getting news out to the media via frequent press releases.
"I want everyone to know about this," he says. "Maybe they wouldn't be violating the laws if they knew we were going to catch them."
For months Phoenix has been the site of protest over day laborers — often illegal immigrants — who line the streets looking for work. "If we come across any illegal aliens during the course of this operation they'll be arrested and put in jail," he says.
Stretching the Law
Arpaio finds creative ways to arrest illegal immigrants — using state law intended on human smuggling to charge them with smuggling themselves — something no one else in the state has attempted.
Though the Phoenix Police Department has a policy of not asking citizenship on arrest, down at the county jail, which houses prisoners from a number of jurisdictions, it's a different matter. Every single person who is booked — regardless of the charge — is asked their citizenship and social security number. Officials then look them up in the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, database.
Since last May, 7,000 illegal immigrants have been detained this way according to Amy Coon, one of 160 Maricopa County sheriff's deputies trained to enforce federal immigration law.
According to the agreement with ICE, prisoners are only supposed to be held on immigration charges if they were arrested for something else first. Arpaio justifies his practices. "We put the holds on them so they won't be released back to the streets. We do that since the cops will not do it," he says, in a backhanded dig at the more immigrant-friendly Phoenix Police Department.
Following his election in November 2008, Arpaio was asked what impact he thought President Obama would have on immigration. “I don't know what the new president will do. The only thing that troubles me is that during the election campaign, no one talked about illegal immigration. Why was that taken off the radar screen? It's a very serious problem in this county, certainly in Arizona, and nobody talks about it! So maybe the new president will start talking about it.
I hope there may be some new policies one day that could resolve the illegal immigration problem. I think what we have to do is legally allow more people to come into our country and work. We have to continue to enforce our laws. Those that are here illegally should be sent back. They should not be here. I don't believe in Amnesty. I heard our new president has been discussing amnesty . . . but once he gets in the White House and learns how serious the problem is, he may well surround himself with competent, I hope, people, and will start listening. If that happens, he will likely get a different viewpoint.”
Sources: 'America's Toughest Sheriff' Takes on Immigration by Ted Robbins
Sheriff Joe Arapaio for President! by Gene Lalor