Feds Sue Arizona’s Joe Arpaio for Obstruction

Photo: Aura Bogado

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


The Department of Justice is suing Sheriff Joe Arpaio for refusing to cooperate with a federal investigation into whether his highly publicized crackdowns on illegal immigrants in Arizona’s Maricopa County violated people’s civil rights. DOJ had threatened the suit last month after accusing Arpaio of failing to turn over documents that could determine whether his immigration sweeps and treatment of Hispanic inmates were discriminatory and overreaching (as I blogged earlier and Aura Bogado explored in detail in her Mother Jones article, “Hazing Arizona.”)

The suit alleges that Arpaio also refused to let federal investigators tour the county jail or other facilities. A federal judge, meanwhile, ruled earlier this year that Arpaio’s department had destroyed documents related to its immigration sweeps. DOJ denounced Arpaio’s crackdowns and accused him of obstructing the federal investigation. From the Los Angeles Times:

The department said it was the first time in 30 years a police agency had not cooperated in a civil-rights probe. “The actions of the sheriff’s office are unprecedented. It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil-rights division, in a statement.

Arizona has clearly emerged as a laboratory of sorts for immigration law enforcement, given the calavier approach that some of its officials have taken toward cracking down on illegal immigrants. Both fans and foes of immigration will invariably cast the Arpaio lawsuit as an extension of the federal government’s challenge to SB 1070, the controversial statewide immigration law that was blocked in court earlier this summer.

But the differences are also worth noting: The feds challenged SB 1070 on the grounds that the state law had pre-empted federal authority on immigration law; noticeably absent was the argument that it enabled racial profiling, and thus violated civil rights. (The legal reasoning was that the pre-emption argument would hold up better in court.) But now, with the Arpaio investigation and accompanying lawsuit, the Justice Department is sending the message that it is willing to add civil-rights protections to its priorities for immigration enforcement—and go after authorities who refuse to take heed. With moderate swing-state Democrats running scared in the midterm elections, it’s a risky time for the Obama administration to get aggressive on the issue. But the Justice Department, at least, seems to have put such fears aside, at least until they can manage to rein in the rogue sheriff.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate