May 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

How emboldened Arizona Latinos took down Sheriff Joe Arpaio

 Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to participants of the Border Security Expo on April 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A former Arizona sheriff drew national attention for his exorbitant immigration enforcement antics that eventually brought a federal probe. A new book details how Latino activists brought him down.

Why it matters: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's headline-grabbing stunts, like forcing prisoners to wear pink underwear, slowly galvanized a Latino electorate that ousted him and turned Arizona blue.

Details: Investigative journalists Terry Greene Sterling and Jude Joffe-Block detail the rise and fall of the lawman, once a hero for the right, in "Driving While Brown: Sheriff Joe Arpaio Versus the Latino Resistance."

  • As sheriff of Arizona's most populous county, the son of a working-class Italian immigrant transformed into one of the nation's most ruthless anti-immigrant crusaders amid a rise in migration from Mexico.
  • A former DEA agent, Arpaio served as sheriff from 1993 to 2016 and was accused of racially profiling Latino motorists, jailing political enemies and harassing critics, including journalists.
  • Arpaio's actions targeting Latino immigrants were often compared to racist Alabama lawman Bull Connor, who fought against civil rights.
Cover of the book Driving While Brown
Photo: University of California Press

The intrigue: As Arpaio rose, Latino activists like Lydia Guzman slowly responded to his policies that had sparked fear around Phoenix in the mid-200os, the authors point out.

  • Immigrants hid in water tanks to avoid aggressive deputies, held hunger strikes in jails, and staged protests outside of Apario's scorching hot Tent City, where he held Latino detainees.
  • The authors show how that activism led to the landmark racial-profiling lawsuit that exposed more details of Arpaio's behavior and a surge in Latinos registering to vote in southern Arizona.

Arpaio was defeated in 2016 by a coalition of Latinos, Native Americans, progressive white voters and moderate conservatives.

Don't forget: Taxpayers are still paying to settle a racial-profiling lawsuit from Arpaio's immigration patrols in metro Phoenix a decade ago.

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