“Illegals” in Phoenix: Joe Arpaio’s Latest Fatuity

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


  1. Seattle in Texas

    It’s a sad and sick situation. The criminal justice system is infested with criminals like that above running it.
    But the gravity of the situation for our friends who come from the socially constructed nation of Mexico into the socially constructed nation of the U.S., and based on socially constructed laws that makes their crossing of the socially constructed border illegal based on socially constructed definitions of nationality, ethnicity, citizenship, etc. carries so other unnecessary and unjust hardships rarely addressed.
    The psychological trauma, following with physical effects is problematic. Living day to day in various levels of paranoia that fluctuates constantly. Chronic headaches, unbearable stomach pains, lack of appetite, exhaustion, etc. which is often internalized only making it worse, along with the inability to obtain healthcare quite often, is too much for any human being to take over a long period of time. These are just some of the effects that are related to the constant worry of deportation, oppression, exploitation, etc.
    The worries are valid and should not have to be. In addition, when they do need help from legal authorities, they are often too scared to call for help because of people like that above. They often handle their own problems within their own communities, which has its pros and cons—but think of problems that involve child abuse, domestic violence, vandalism, theft, and so on—whether it be from their community or from people outside their community (Americans). It’s one sided when Americans are involved.
    And it’s very difficult for those who have dependants. And I think of a situation where the father and son lived in the States, the son was approximately 7 years old and at home with neighbors and the father was picked up while at work and deported. The son was left behind. Unexpected, unplanned obviously. Extremely traumatizing for both the father and son. That’s just one situation of many.
    They endure so much while this nation consumes the fruits of their labor without the slightest bit of gratitude and appreciation.
    And for any undocumented worker, individual, family, etc., as far as I know, the best place to seek sanctuary in this nation is the Catholic Church particularly if they are Catholic…with relation to sanctuary, I am unable to say the same with as much confidence of Protestant Churches and with all sincerity, no puns intended to anybody. It’s all so very sad. Very sad.

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