The US Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation of the sheriff’s office in Arizona’s Maricopa County following months of complaints that deputies are discriminating in their enforcement of federal immigration laws. Officials from the Department’s Civil Rights Division notified Sheriff Joe Arpaio March 10 that the investigation will focus on whether deputies are engaging in “discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures.” Arpaio replied to the Arizona Republic: “We have nothing to hide.” he said.
Last year, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon asked for a federal investigation of the sheriff’s office. Last month, four key Democratic members of the US House Judiciary Committee joined in asking Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to investigate Arpaio. The lawmakers said Arpaio had exceeded the limits of a federal program that gives local police immigration-enforcement powers by ordering deputies to “scour” Latino neighborhoods looking for undocumented immigrants based on skin color.
Arpaio, who was easily re-elected to a fifth term in November, called the investigation politically motivated and vowed to continue to arrest undocumented immigrants. “I am not going to be intimidated by the politics and by the Justice Department,” Arpaio said. “I want the people of Arizona to know this: I will continue to enforce all the immigration laws.”
In a two-page letter dated March 10, acting assistant attorney general Loretta King said that if the investigation uncovers violations, her office will work with Arpaio to find remedies. But Arpaio pledged to will fight the Justice Department in the courts if he disagrees with any of the changes the DoJ tries to impose.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the board’s lone Democrat and most outspoken critic of Arpaio’s policies, was planning to deliver a petition with 35,000 Internet signatures calling for a Justice Department investigation when the probe was announced. “I think they’re going to find racial profiling, which is a civil rights abuse,” said Wilcox, who was in Washington for a National Association of Counties conference. “It’s time to put a stop to them. It may cost us millions in lawsuits.” (Arizona Republic, March 11)