Most followers of immigration issues know that Arizona has been a flashpoint in the battle between open-borders advocates on one hand, and pro-enforcement types on the other.
Most people also know that Arizonans — or at least significant numbers of them — maintain conservative views. This is, after all, the home of Barry Goldwater and the longtime fiefdom of Republican Senator John McCain, who just won reelection (but who is, however inexplicably, disturbingly liberal on the singular issue of immigration, having been one of the fathers of the abysmal and failed “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill of 2013). In the presidential election on November 8, Donald Trump carried the state, although by a smaller margin than one might think given its conservative “pedigree”.
Threaded throughout the see-saw of immigration issues, however, was the constant presence of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, a retired DEA official when he first won the job, was a steadfast proponent of vigorously enforcing immigration laws, and ensuring that the officers in his department did all they could to supplement federal efforts, which he felt fell far short of the mark under the Obama administration to the detriment of his county’s citizenry. This of course made Arpaio a lightning rod right in the middle of the state’s ongoing battle.
His department (and he personally) became subject to any number of suits and investigations, including some initiated by the highly politicized Obama Justice Department of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, a department that many believe has done incalculable harm to local policing everywhere in the country by fostering a hostile climate across the entire spectrum of enforcement activities. (Heather Mac Donald, for one, has written extensively and persuasively on this matter in a number of publications; see here, here, and here.)
Defending Arpaio and his department became a monumentally expensive proposition for the county — some estimates put the figure at nearly $150 million — and may ultimately have been his undoing as he lost his bid for reelection to a seventh term on November 8. This appears to have been a part of a fierce and concerted strategy by his philosophical opponents. Take note of this paragraph from a New York Times story on the loss:
“The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, an advocacy group formed in 2007 to counter the sheriff’s embrace of a federal program that allowed his deputies to act as de facto immigration agents.
I don’t know what to make of the statement. Does Garcia imply that undocumented people voted illegally? Or is he simply referring to the panoply of lawsuits piled on Arpaio’s back like a rugby scrum? If so, we are left to wonder who had the deep pockets necessary to fund all this costly litigation. I think we can find the answer to this latter question in another, related article to be found in Police magazine.
The sheriff transition poses a conundrum for the county. One can understand the exhaustion Maricopa voters may have felt at the constancy of lawsuits arising from the targeting of Arpaio.
But if, as one might assume, Penzone is more liberal and intends to institute sheriff’s department policies throwing it firmly into the camp of “sanctuary jurisdictions” in obeisance to his financing sponsors’ philosophical inclinations, he’s doing it at exactly the wrong time, because President-elect Trump has promised to do everything he can to reverse the recent federal trend of tolerating and even encouraging such flagrant nose-thumbing at federal immigration enforcement efforts — among other things by ensuring that state and local law enforcement agencies that engage in such practices get frozen out of federal funding disbursements from programs like SCAAP (State Criminal Alien Assistance Program) and Byrne Grants.
It may turn out to Maricopa’s continuing disadvantage that Penzone has been elected at this key juncture. We live in interesting times.
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