Behind Arizona‘s new immigration law SB 1070 stands the figure of the law enforcement officer who styles himself “America’s toughest sheriff”. The law amounts to a state-wide extension of the war on illegal immigration that Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been waging in Phoenix.
Arpaio is in charge of policing Maricopa County, which covers the city and which has about half of the state’s 500,000 undocumented immigrants. Since 1992, when he was first elected to the post, he has gained a reputation for being a media-savvy controversialist who has pioneered such headline-grabbing innovations as forcing criminals to wear pink underwear and sweatshirts.
His drive against illegal immigration has been his most fiercely contested effort yet. It has been steadily gathering steam over the past five years.
First, he introduced a phone hotline to allow people to report anonymously those suspected of being without papers. Then he turned on employers who took on undocumented workers with the threat of fines and removal of business licences.
In 2007 he began “crime suppression sweeps” – police raids against factories, schools and housing areas in mainly Hispanic areas of the city. He did so using federal rules designed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to strike against major crime gangs and terrorists’ networks.
Alessandra Soler Meetze, head of the Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has seven lawsuits pending against the sheriff, says that SB 1070 expands Arpaio’s experiments in racial profiling against Hispanics from Phoenix to the whole state. “What happens is that you end up detaining lawful US citizens and legal residents who also get swept up in these raids,” she said.
The Arpaio revolution has proved highly popular with white voters. The sheriff himself has been re-elected with well over 50% voter support, and other politicians now want in on his success.
The first has been Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, who signed SB 1070 into law in April. She has made clear that she sees the law as a way of driving illegal immigrants out of the state. Her spokesman when asked about the continuing exodus of Hispanics, said: “If it means that fewer people are breaking the law, that is absolutely an accomplishment.”
Now politicians in other states are starting to take notice, with nine other states coming forward to say they support Arizona’s approach.Nine other states have said they support Arizona’s approach. “Politicians are jumping on this, having seen how popular Arpaio has been and wanting that for themselves. But is that the best way to tackle immigration? I don’t think so,” said David Lujan, leader of the Democrats in the Arizona council of representatives.
The threat to the Obama administration in all this is clear, which is why it is trying to stop SB 1070 with a legal injunction. If it allows Arizona to go its own way, with other states certain to follow suit, the federal government could quickly lose control of the nation’s immigration policy.The threat to the Obama administration is clear, and it is trying to stop SB 1070 with a legal injunction. If it allows Arizona to go its own way, with other states certain to follow suit, the federal government could quickly lose control of the nation’s immigration policy.
Sherfiff Joe Arpaio has proved highly popular with voters, and other states are now following his lead