A federal judge said that the constitutional rights of Latino drivers were violated when Arizona’s sheriff, Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, stopped and detained them as part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants and ordered him to stop using race in his law enforcement decisions.
The judge’s ruling against Maricopa County sheriff (MCSO), Arpaio, America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff, was a response to a class-action lawsuit, which was brought by Hispanic drivers. The Latino drivers question whether police can target illegal immigrants without racially profiling U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic origin.
The U.S. District Court Judge, who decided the case after a trial without a jury (which ended August 2nd) forbade the sheriff’s office from detaining Latino drivers and passengers only on the suspicion that they are illegal immigrants or to use race or Latino ancestry as a reason to stop a vehicle. The judge ruled that the drivers’ constitutional rights were violated and he ordered Arpaio’s office to cease using race or ancestry as a grounds to stop, detain or hold occupants of vehicles, some of them in crime sweeps called “saturation patrols.”
During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city, in some cases heavily Latino areas, over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Immigrants who were in the country illegally accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps carried out by Arpaio’s office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio’s office.
The sheriff’s office was also ordered not to detain Latinos stopped for a traffic violation longer than needed to resolve the violation if there was no reason to believe they broke the law.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of all Latinos who, since January 2007, have been stopped, detained, questioned or searched by sheriff’s deputies in Maricopa County. The civil rights case is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Mexican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The ruling represents a victory for those who pushed the lawsuit. They were not seeking money damages, just looking to bring to light the fact that Arpaio’s office engages in racial profiling and are seeking to bring about policy changes.
“For too long the sheriff has been victimizing the people he’s meant to serve with his discriminatory policy,” said Cecilia D. Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Right Project. “Today we’re seeing justice for everyone in the county.”
The ruling came days after a U.S. Senate panel approved a landmark comprehensive immigration legislation that would bring about the biggest changes in immigration policy in a generation if passed by Congress. The bill would put 11 million immigrants without legal status on a 13-year pathway to citizenship while strengthening security along the southwest Mexican border.
The sheriff has repeatedly denied the allegations of racial profiling and will not face jail time or fines as a result of the ruling. His attorney plans to file an appeal.
The next step will be to ask the judge to put a mechanism in place in order to assure the sheriff’s office complies with the ruling. The sheriffs must be held accountable. A June 14thhearing has been set.
Arpaio’s department includes Arizona’s biggest county by population, with 3.8 million residents. His methods, which include saturation patrols or “crime suppression” sweeps in predominantly Latino areas in and around Phoenix, have made him somewhat of a ‘hero’ to groups seeking to crackdown on illegal immigrants entering the U.S., and a target of advocates for immigrants’ rights.
The allegations in the class-action case are similar to those made by the U.S. Justice Department in a civil lawsuit filed in May 2012 against Maricopa County and Arpaio.
The Justice Department, in its lawsuit, accuses the sheriff of “intentionally and systematically” discriminating against Latinos. Arpaio, who will be 81-years-old next month, was elected in November to his sixth consecutive term as sheriff, having served 20 years in office, responded to the U.S. lawsuit that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is going after him to court Latino voters.
Arpaio, known for jailing inmates in tents and making prisoners wear pink underwear, started doing immigration enforcement in 2006 in the midst of Arizona voter frustration regarding the state’s role as the nation’s busiest illegal entryway. He testified at last year’s trial that his department does not arrest people “because of the color of their skin.”
While many deputies had undergone training regarding racial profiling, according to trial witnesses, Arpaio testified that he hadn’t gone through the training.
The case began in 2007 when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, who was in the U.S. legally on a tourist visa, was detained by sheriff’s deputies near a Cave Creek church, where day laborers often gathered.
A driver had picked up Melendres and two other men and was driving away from the church when a deputy stopped the car for speeding. The driver, who was white, was not cited and was allowed to leave, while the Hispanic men were held. Melendres said in the lawsuit that a nine-hour detention that followed was unlawful. Melendres is one of the five named plaintiffs in the case. The other four are U.S. citizens.
David Rodriguez, of Mesa, Arizona, testified July 19th that in December 2007, while, “four-wheeling” with his family on a dirt road near Bartlett Dam, he inadvertently drove onto a closed road, as did several other vehicles.
Rodriguez said that he was cited by the deputy, while the other drivers, all of whom Rodriguez described as ‘white,’ were not cited. Rodriguez said he believed he was cited because he is Hispanic.
“The voices of Sheriff Arpaio’s racial profiling victims have been heard, Nancy Ramirez, western regional counsel with Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in an e-mailed statement.
The “decision vindicates Maricopa County community members who have long suffered from the sheriff’s discriminatory and illegal practices,” she said. “We look forward to seeing much needed reforms implemented at the MCSO.”
When it came to making traffic stops, Arpaio said in 2007 that deputies are not bound by state laws in finding a reason to stop immigrants.
“Ours is an operation, whether it’s the state law or the federal, to go after illegals, not the crime first, that they happen to be illegals,” the ruling quoted Arpaio as saying. “My program, my philosophy is a pure program. You go after illegals. I’m not afraid to say that. And you go after them and you lock them up.”
The judge stated that the sheriff’s office declared on several occasions that racial profiling is strictly prohibited and not tolerated, but at the same time, witnesses said it was appropriate to consider race as a factor in rounding up immigrants.
Do you believe that MCSO’s Arpaio violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers or do you think he prohibited racial profiling in his department? It seems as though he is trying to have it both ways.
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