A Mexican citizen who is in the US legally has filed the first lawsuit challenging the aggressive immigration-enforcement efforts of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona’s Maricopa County, charging unlawful detainment and racial profiling. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that Arpaio’s actions are unconstitutional, and injunctions prohibiting the use of Arpaio’s anti-immigration hotline and directing the Sheriff’s Office to disband its Illegal Immigration Interdiction unit.
“Our investigations show that the Sheriff’s Office has routinely exceeded their authority and shown a blatant disregard for the civil rights of individuals in Maricopa County,” said Lou Moffa, a lead attorney in the case. “With this suit, we hope to demonstrate that no matter how politically popular an issue is, the Sheriff’s Office does not have the right to trounce haphazardly over an individual’s rights.”
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 12 in federal court, outlines several instances where Arpaio and his deputies are accused of overstepping their authority to conduct “immigration raids,” targeting people solely based on race, and detaining persons who are legally in the country. Although only one plaintiff is identified, the lawsuit is a class-action suit filed on behalf of “all others similarly situated.”
Arpaio called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said it is an attempt to intimidate him before his office begins enforcing the state’s new employer-sanctions law on Jan. 1. “There is no racial-profiling,” Arpaio said. “I don’t go around the street corner grabbing 10 people because they look like they’re from Mexico.”
The named litigant is Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a US citizen who was illegally detained after being stopped on the street, and held for about eight hours before an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent verified his documents.
The Sheriff’s Office has been enforcing federal immigration laws since March 2006. About 160 deputies and jail officers have been specially trained to enforce federal immigration laws. Since 2006, ICE-trained Maricopa deputies have arrested or deported more than 1,200 people. In July, Arpaio launched a controversial hotline to let the public report “illegal immigrants” or smuggling activity.
Arpaio said traffic stops like the one involving Ortega will continue. “We’re going to keep doing our job,” Arpaio said. “We’re going to keep arresting illegal immigrants.” (Arizona Republic, Dec. 13)