Sheriff Joe Arpaio
ACLU official: Arpaio using immigration for political gain, dividing Arizona
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is using immigration to drive a political agenda and in the process is turning Arizonans against each other and threatening the civil rights of legal residents, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday.
"It is wrong-headed and nothing short of racial profiling," Anthony D. Romero said Friday before a civil rights forum at Arizona State University. "It threatens to sweep not just undocumented immigrants but also legal residents and U.S. citizens.
"It turns one member of our community against another. And it's very divisive politics," he added.
Romero, who has been in charge of the national ACLU since 2001, said Arpaio's immigration sweeps and other actions against illegal immigrants threaten to create a ripple effect across the country.
"Unfortunately Sheriff Arpaio is the poster boy for law enforcement officials who use racial profiling, who take their offices and attack members of the community based on their immigration status," he said.
Meanwhile, making illegal immigrants and minorities less willing to call on and cooperate with law enforcement affects public safety for everyone in the community, Romero said.
"It gets in the way of good law enforcement," he said. "Police officers often need the assistance, need the information from community residents whether they are documented or undocumented."
Arpaio's media relations office didn't immediately return a voice mail left early Friday afternoon.
Romero also criticized pending legislation authored by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, that would make it trespassing to be in the country illegally, outlaw picking up and hiring undocumented workers and require local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.
"It again turns the law enforcement community against the very residents they're there to serve and protect," he said.
Romero said sending the National Guard to the border, which some officials have recommended after the shooting death of a southeastern Arizona rancher, would be an overreaction.
"That will only further fuel the violence and the antagonism between members of our community," he said.
During the civil rights forum, Romero said the nation's criminal justice system is "fundamentally broken," a problem that he said is apparent in a disproportionate share of arrests and prosecutions of minorities.
That cycle continues, he said, with abuses against minorities in prisons and the unpromising life available to minorities after prison.
"Being tough on crime has created a whole series of new problems and new challenges for us as a society that we really have to confront squarely," Romero said.