By Stéfany Urrea
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio didn’t just get pardoned by President Trump; he got patted on the back, too. While Hurricane Harvey readied to pound Texas, the White House released a statement on giving Arpaio a pass while previously convicted of criminal contempt for defying the Constitution while serving as a public official. The self-proclaimed “Toughest Sheriff in America” served in that role for 24 years, until community members and the Bazta Arpaio Coalition (led by Orange County Immigrant Youth United partner organization Puente Immigrant Rights Movement) conducted a successful campaign that finally retired Arpaio at the ballot.
For many reasons, Arpaio is a notorious figure among the immigrant rights movement. He targeted undocumented immigrants, in particular Latino immigrants, with policies that included racial profiling, raids, and a “Tent City.” An open-field space covered by a hard-wired fence, Arpaio created Tent City to guarantee the confinement of undocumented immigrants when detention centers became overcrowded. The entrance to Tent City had signs that read “Always Open” and “Vacancy.” Arpaio publicly called it a “concentration camp” alleging that immigrants simply served time for illegal immigration.
But in reality, the conditions of Tent City were deplorable. Immigrants were kept outdoors during extreme heat in Arizona, which sometimes peaked at 123 degrees during the summer. Undocumented immigrants were forced to work in chain gangs and women gave birth in unsanitary conditions while still shackled. The sadism of Tent City accompanied the numerous raids Arpaio conducted outside of workplaces and in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, all of which served to terrorize immigrant children and families.
Last Friday, the national immigrant rights community was disappointed by Arpaio’s pardon, but the news didn’t come as a surprise to say the least. While our cause continues with conviction and faith, it’s our reality that we work against white supremacy’s deportation machine. This pardon served as another attack on immigrants from a president who started his campaign calling undocumented Mexican immigrants “criminals,” and “rapists.” It insulted the political work of immigrant youth who organized a walk out to recall Arpaio and succeeded.
Trump’s pardon isn’t a pardon; it’s a handshake between two white men that perceive undocumented immigrants as a social cancer. As immigrants we will no longer defend our humanity with statistics that prove the significant benefits we provide this country. We’ll focus our energy organizing our communities, instead, and strip way the fear that both Democratic and Republican administrations have instilled in us. Immigrants will continue to hold local and national officials accountable, regardless of how many times the Trump administration condones their racist and xenophobic practices.
Only a guilty Arpaio needs a pardon, anyway.