Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is one of Arizona’s wonders, right up there with the Grand Canyon. A Google search on Arpaio returns 329,000 hits, including articles in Madrid’s El Mundo, the London Times and the Johannesburg Star. Arpaio owes his notoriety to a series of shenanigans he has committed in his capacity as Sheriff. Two of his better known feats involved resurrecting the chain gang (going so far as to boast of having the only female chain gang in history), housing inmates in tents, and forcing them to wear pink underwear. And, more than two-thirds of those in the Maricopa county jail are pre-trial detainees, so are not convicted of any crime and presumably innocent; but, that is not the way Arpaio treats the inmates in his custody.
Arpaio has found a new cause célèbre that will score high with many voters: the so-called “illegal” problem. The latest episode of “illegal” persecution is taking place just outside Pruitt’s furniture store in Phoenix, even as I write this. Latin American day workers congregate in some parts of town looking for work. After the Phoenix police moved them out of a Home Depot, they dispersed to areas in close proximity, including the area near Pruitt’s. Pruitt’s owner hired off-duty Phoenix Police officers to “protect” customers from day laborers. When Phoenix authorities put an end to this, Arpaio jumped into the fray with alacrity. He had 160 officers deputized as federal immigration agents.
A New York Times reporter who witnessed Arpaio’s deputies in action wrote:
“They’ll pull a car over for a traffic infraction, then check everyone’s papers. They say they act on reasonable suspicion only — if they see a shirt or shoes like those worn south of the border or hear Spanish. They say it isn’t profiling.”
While Arpaio, who loves the limelight, is basking in the attention he is receiving, Latin Americans are suffering the consequences of his sham. Members of a Latino congregation in a nearby Lutheran Church no longer drive to services, they walk. They fear Sheriff Joe, their pastor said.
Arpaio’s parents were immigrants from Naples. There was a time when Italians were not considered white in the United States. They worked in unsanitary and dangerous places that killed them disproportionately. Some were lynched in Florida and Louisiana. Their pain and suffering was deplorable. The Italian immigrants were human beings who deserved better, as do the Mexican day laborers in Maricopa County. A piece of paper has no bearing on it.
~ José A. Cobas
Program in Sociology
School of Social and Family Dynamics
Arizona State University