Justice Department Sues Arizona Sheriff Over Treatment of Immigrants and Others

Arizona sunset

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), through its Civil Rights Division, filed a federal lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) in Arizona and its sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Arpaio and the MCSO have been the subject of controversy for years, with numerous allegations of blatant racial profiling against Latinos, mistreatment Latinos in MCSO custody, harassment of the office’s critics, and more.

This is far from the first legal action against Arpaio and the MCSO, but it is the first large-scale civil rights lawsuit brought by the federal government. The alleged tactics of the MCSO have a profound impact on immigrant communities in Arizona, regardless of whether they have documented immigration status, which affects immigrants around the nation.

The DOJ’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on May 10, 2012, accuses the MCSO of a wide array of acts violating the civil rights of Latinos and others in Maricopa County. The county is one of the largest in the country, with a population of almost four million people, most of whom live in the greater Phoenix area. It is also geographically large, covering over nine thousand square miles. The county’s Latino population, according to the DOJ’s complaint, grew by roughly forty-seven percent between 2000 and 2010 and comprises about thirty percent of the total.

Federal law permits the DOJ to bring a lawsuit against a government body, like a law enforcement agency, in order to stop a “pattern or practice” that denies people of their civil rights. This applies to any government official, employee, or agent acting on the government’s behalf. The lawsuit therefore names not only the MCSO and the county, but also Sheriff Arpaio in his official capacity. The statute covers people’s “rights, privileges, or immunities” covered by federal law or the U.S. Constitution. This could include rights protected in immigration proceedings, such as freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, or the government’s burden of proving a person’s immigration status.

The conduct of Sheriff Arpaio and the MCSO has made headlines repeatedly over the past few years, increasing in prominence after Arizona passed a controversial immigration law in 2010. That law, among other controversial provisions, required law enforcement to inquire about a person’s immigration status during a stop if they had a reasonable belief that the person might be undocumented. Arpaio’s office has been accused of mistreating Latino drivers during otherwise routine traffic stops, but also of specifically targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops with or without reasonable cause. Arpaio also allegedly engaged volunteers, many of whom are civilians without law enforcement training or credentials, to police Latino areas.

The DOJ claims, first, that the MCSO’s tactics violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating based on race or national origin. It also alleges violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and arrests. The complaint alleges multiple violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law prohibiting government discrimination based on race, national origin, and other categories. Finally, it alleges First Amendment violations by the MCSO against its critics.

The United States immigration system is often complex and beset by politics. Contact Gus Shihab today online or at (800) 625-3404 to schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer who can help guide you through the system.

More Blog Posts

Controversial Arizona Sheriff Stripped of Authority to Conduct Immigration Screening, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, January 11, 2012
Arizona Sheriff Arpaio Mistreats Pregnant Mexican Foreign National Inmate, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, December 30, 2011

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