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.