By Deirdre Griswold
Published Sep 12, 2010 11:24 PM
Joe Arpaio has run the notorious sheriff’s department in Arizona’s Maricopa County since 1992.
From 2004 through November 2007, Arpaio was the target of 2,150 lawsuits in U.S. District Court and hundreds more in Maricopa County courts. More than $50 million worth of claims were filed about the brutal prison conditions under Arpaio — 50 times as many lawsuits as filed against the jail systems of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston combined. (Phoenix New Times, Dec. 20, 2007)
The police under Arpaio’s command have acted so brutally that the county has had to actually pay out $42 million in legal settlements to victims of abuse.
Arpaio revels in his reputation. His vicious attitude toward both immigrants and citizens, particularly Latinos and Latinas, has made him the target of numerous exposés and investigations.
The protests against him have been constant and growing, especially since his department began enforcing the anti-immigrant Arizona law SB1070, which gives police the right to stop, search and arrest people on the street for no other reason than their appearance — racial profiling, pure and simple.
Tens of thousands have marched in the streets of Phoenix calling for an end to the criminalization of undocumented immigrants. Students have chained themselves to gates. Demonstrations have erupted against Arizona sports teams wherever they go. Scores of organizations have heeded the call to boycott the state until the law is overturned and have canceled conventions and meetings there.
After SB1070 went into effect and mass roundups intensified in Latino/a neighborhoods, the jails became so crowded that Arpaio opened a Tent City to hold the overflow of detainees. He was caught on video laughingly referring to it as a “concentration camp.” (Phoenix Times, Aug. 2)
The mass movement against Arpaio and SB1070 grew so tumultuous that in late July a federal judge ruled that parts of the law were illegal — like the police-state provision that made it a state crime (!) for a person not to be carrying immigration documents.
Now the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Arpaio and his office for refusing to cooperate with its investigations of alleged discrimination on the basis of national origin — a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Arpaio’s office had signed agreements with the Justice Department promising to cooperate in such investigations and had received federal money as a result, but then violated the contract.
Clearly, Arpaio has not only made life hell for hundreds of thousands of working people and their families but has also become a thorn in the side of his boss, the Justice Department.
The federal government itself has been carrying out raids on undocumented workers through Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI. It expects to deport 400,000 immigrants this year — 10 percent more than in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration. But these agencies of capitalist repression want to do it their way, without the fascistic grandstanding of Arpaio and other Arizona politicians who are whipping up anti-immigrant bigotry for two reasons: to win votes away from the Democrats and to find a scapegoat for the mass anger over unemployment and foreclosures.
At the same time that the Obama administration is suing Arpaio, it is sending National Guard troops to the border with Mexico, where it is extending the wall between the two countries. Clearly, the U.S. corporations that own both the Democratic and Republican parties exercise the right to go anywhere in the world to exploit workers, while at the same time they get the government here to stigmatize and surround immigrants with insuperable obstacles in order to keep millions of such workers as a hunted, low-wage workforce with no legal rights.
Nevertheless, immigrant workers and their allies are fighting back. They have staged magnificent May 1 demonstrations for the past five years and are a vital force in reviving the labor movement. A united working-class movement that builds solidarity among all nationalities and demands legalization is the only truly effective way to eradicate the poisonous Joe Arpaios.
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