ACLU Welcomes DOJ Inquiry into Arpaio Crime Suppression Sweeps, Says Evidence Clearly Indicates Racial Profiling

March 11, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today applauded the decision by the Department of Justice to investigate the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, saying evidence will demonstrate that Arpaio is illegally profiling Latinos in Maricopa County in violation of the U.S. Constitution. 

“Sheriff Arpaio may be one of the most extreme examples of a law enforcement official abusing his power and operating well beyond the bounds of the Constitution and its guarantee of equality under the law,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Daniel Pochoda. “Arpaio has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to literally terrorize communities of color, consisting overwhelmingly of hard working and law-abiding persons and a majority of whom are citizens, in his obsessive quest for ‘illegals.’”

Pochoda and the ACLU are part of the legal team challenging Arpaio’s crime suppression sweeps, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and lead counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP. They are representing five individuals and Somos America, a Latino community-based coalition, who sued Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and Maricopa County, claiming that they or their members were unlawfully stopped and mistreated by law enforcement agents because they were Latino.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Department of Justice follows an aggressive public education campaign by a broad range of local and national immigrants’ rights groups to urge the federal government to exercise greater oversight over the 287(g) program, which allows local municipalities to enter into agreements with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.  The ACLU has been an outspoken critic of the program, saying it detracts local police from their crime fighting duties, leads to racial profiling and undermines the federal government’s role in regulating immigration nationwide.

In the January 2007 agreement he signed with the federal government, Arpaio promised to arrest individuals suspected of committing serious crimes. The ACLU is arguing that Arpaio is going well beyond the scope of this agreement by primarily targeting immigrants during routine traffic stops and unconstitutionally using race as a pretext to stop, detain and arrest individuals. DOJ guidelines expressly prohibit the use of race during routine traffic stops.

"Arpaio has acknowledged that he uses pretextual traffic stops – and not serious criminal activity – to identify possible undocumented persons, and recently stated that if his federal 287(g) powers were limited in the future to prohibit this, he would utilize state laws to do so," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona.

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