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How Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio Ended Up in Court--PICTURES How Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio Ended Up in Court--PICTURES

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The Next America - Immigration 2012 / Immigration

How Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio Ended Up in Court--PICTURES

photo of Doris Nhan
July 18, 2012

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is to go on trial in Arizona on Thursday over a class-action lawsuit alleging that he and his department have discriminated against Hispanics regardless of whether they are legal citizens. The trial is likely to be the first of many civil-rights lawsuits against officers treading the fine line between enforcing Arizona’s immigration law and respecting the constitutional rights of the state’s citizens.

The class-action case, filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is not seeking damages but is asking Arpaio and the department to set stronger safeguards against discrimination. Arpaio has denied all allegations of discrimination.

In June, the Supreme Court upheld most of the Obama administration’s assertions that Arizona’s immigration law, known as S.B. 1070, was preempted by federal authority to enforce immigration. The single provision that survived—the requirement for officers to check the immigration status during traffic stops if there is “reasonable suspicion”—is expected to eventually be tested in the civil-rights courts.

The Justice Department has its own civil lawsuit against Arpaio that is pending trial, which it filed in May. But first, Arpaio must survive this trial. The journey of immigration enforcement in Arizona is a long one, especially since the state has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants.

Arpaio, the county’s sheriff since 1993, has an entangled history with immigration enforcement. We’ve put together a short timeline of events that have led to the trial.

August 2005-- The Arizona Legislature passes a statute, dubbed the “Coyote Law,” that makes it a felony to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border. This, along with pieces of other similar immigration enforcement bills, would become the precursor to the hotly debated S.B. 1070 legislation that Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law in 2010. Here, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio observes flags placed at the U.S.-Mexico border in Hereford, Ariz., at a 2010 tea party rally.(AP Photo/Matt York)

May 2006-- Reports surface that Arpaio has recruited a posse consisting of hundreds of civilian volunteers and county deputies dedicated to patrolling the borders and arresting illegal immigrants and their smugglers. “My message is clear: If you come here and I catch you, you’re going straight to jail,” he told The Washington Times. Since then, Arpaio has assembled thousands of posse members, including the 56 in this 2010 swearing-in ceremony.(AP Photo/Matt York)

September 2008-- The ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of several Arizona residents against Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, alleging they engaged in racial profiling against Latinos without regard to the resident’s actual legal status. Hundreds have protested against Arpaio's tough law-enforcement methods, calling for his resignation.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


March 2009-- A Justice Department letter to Arpaio says his enforcement methods may be unfairly targeting Hispanics and Spanish-speakers. The department launches an investigation into Arpaio’s office to determine whether he and his deputies were in fact discriminating against Latino residents. Arpaio denied all allegations and said that he welcomed the investigation. He has traditionally been called “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and is known for his unconventional methods, including ordering inmates to wear pink underwear and creating an outdoor jail facility known as Tent City (pictured).(AP Photo/Matt York)

April 2010-- Gov. Jan Brewer signs S.B. 1070 into law, passing what many say is the nation’s toughest immigration enforcement legislation. The law is a culmination of years of legislative attempts to beef up the state’s immigration enforcement, much of which was vetoed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat. Brewer assumed office in January 2009 after Napolitano stepped down to head the Homeland Security Department.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

December 2011-- The Homeland Security Department revokes the privilege for Arpaio’s deputies to make immigration arrests after allegations that his forces were discriminating against Hispanics. The department and Arpaio’s office have had an agreement since 2007, known as the 287(g) program, that gave federally trained Maricopa County officers the ability to practice immigration enforcement, a duty that traditionally belongs to federal agents.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


April 2012-- Talks between Arpaio and the Obama administration break down over a request by the Justice Department to appoint an independent monitor to ensure that the sheriff's office stayed compliant with the settlement negotiations. Arpaio refused, asking to see more evidence of his violations, and then released the following statement: "To the Obama administration, who is attempting to strong arm me into submission only for its political gain, I say: This will not happen, not on my watch!"(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

May 2012-- The Justice Department files a lawsuit against Arapio, alleging the sheriff and his department discriminated against Latinos, used excessive force, ran its jail system with illegal methods, and has used illegal tactics to silence its critics. The civil lawsuit contends that Arpaio’s department violated the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments of the Constitution.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

June 2012-- The Supreme Court largely agrees with the Obama administration's assertion that immigration enforcement belongs with federal authority and thus invalidates most of Arizona's S.B. 1070 legislation. The single provision that survived gives state authorities the power to check the immigration status of those detained during traffic stops.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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