Things That Matter

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Anti-Immigrant Legacy May Have United Arizona Latinxs

Joe Arpaio touted himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” largely because of his anti-immigrant policies. His strategy worked, Arpaio would become a nationally recognized figure as his xenophobia found him “investigating” President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and supporting Arizona’s SB 1070 in 2010, a set of the country’s most draconian immigration laws which were eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. 

Eventually, Arpaio would be charged with criminal contempt of court, following several federal civil rights lawsuits. Only to be pardoned by Trump. In 2016, Arpaio was unseated by Democrat Paul Penzone. 

Today journalist Fernanda Santos writes, in Politico, there is a new wave of Latinx activists who have emerged in response to Arpaio’s policies. And they’re running for elected office.

Arizona Latinxs are fed up with the anti-immigrant policies. Now they want a seat at the table. 

“This is about stepping into the electoral space and saying, ‘Hey, not only can we put pressure from the outside, but we can infiltrate these systems and do something radically different,’” Lane Santa Cruz told Politico. “It sounds very subversive, but it is not. This is the way through the front door.” 
Tucson City Councilwoman Santa Cruz is one of many newly elected Latinxs in Arizona. Her seat was previously held by Regina Romero, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, who was elected Tucson’s first Latina mayor on Tuesday. 
Many Latinx advocates and organizers were elected in the past 10 months, which could be signaling a new Latinx wave in Arizona that could fundamentally transform the state’s politics.
Raquel Terán, a civic organizer, was elected into the state House of Representatives, Betty Guardado a former housekeeper was elected to the Phoenix City Council and Carlos Garcia, an immigration advocate, was elected to the city council. 

Arizona has not been too kind to its Latinx residents.

History shows Latinxs have always been forced to be at odds with their white Arizona counterparts. 

“Latinos, however, have long struggled for equal access and equal rights in Arizona. Their resistance took shape in the labor unions that opposed legislation in 1914 threatening to ban non-English speakers from working in mines, and then a dual-wage system that paid Mexicans less for doing the same work as Anglos,” Santos writes. 

Joe Arpaio, who has been the subject to multiple federal civil lawsuits, was federally barred from doing “immigration round-ups,” was found to have unfairly targeted Latinxs, and who the U.S. Department of Justice said oversaw the most egregious pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, among numerous other crimes during his 1993-2017 stint as sheriff, appeared to be an extension of this Arizona history. 

Joe Arpaio’s insidious history with immigrants. 

Arpaio decided to take on illegal immigration in the early 2000s ushering him onto the national stage. 

“Arpaio’s deputies started arresting hundreds of illegal immigrants, after entering into a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security. The sheriff’s office blew through its budget on immigration efforts while violent crimes, including sex crimes, went uninvestigated,” according to the Washington Post. 

In 2010, SB 1070 took effect, while most provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court, one which allowed police officers of anyone they believed might be undocumented remained in effect until 2016

In 2011, the Justice Department found that Arpaio’s sheriff’s office systematically profiled Latinxs. In 2013, a U.S. district judge determined the same thing and ordered Arpaio to stop detaining people on the basis of racial profiling. In 2017, he was charged with criminal contempt of court for continuing to detain people. Months later, President Trump pardoned him. 

Arizona Latinxs continue to mobilize and fight back.

Just as often Arizona Latinxs are undermined, they have mobilized against racist efforts. Successfully beating segregation in the schools three years before the Supreme Court decided on the matter, and organizing young Latinxs against discriminatory practices like an absence of bilingual classes and overcrowding.

Garcia was born in Cananea Mexico and was undocumented until he was 14. He founded and ran Puente Human Rights Movement, an immigrant’s rights group. But like many of the advocates who have just been elected, Garcia wants to push things further. Five of his family members have been deported since 2009. 

“I got left with no options. And that’s what has pushed someone like me to actually run for office,” he said.  

As the Arpaios of the world made life increasingly difficult for Arizona immigrants, they fought back with increasing resolve.

“What really woke us up as a community were the anti-immigrant laws here in Arizona, and it was Arpaio, and it was Jan Brewer, and it was those anti-immigrant policies that they were pushing—that’s what took us to the streets,” says Romero. “But we also realized that if we wanted to change the systems that have oppressed us, we had to do it from the inside. We had to change the faces of these policymakers in Arizona.”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com