The Joe Arpaio I Knew
For most of Joe Arpaio’s two-plus decades as Maricopa County sheriff, he directed operations from the top floor of a downtown Phoenix tower, worlds away from the jails overseen by rank and-file deputies. The executive offices wrapped around an expansive conference room, where I spent weeks in early 2008 with banker boxes full of arrest records, and hanging out with Arpaio himself, a politician who built his career on bashing immigrants long before the rise of Donald Trump.
Back then, I was working for the East Valley Tribune, then a daily newspaper in the Phoenix area. I had filed a public records request for all documents from deputies’ immigration operations. Teamed with Paul Giblin, a fellow Tribune reporter, we were trying to figure out how the sheriff was enforcing immigration laws, and what effect their monomaniacal focus was having on regular police work — like solving crimes. Arpaio had long before achieved national notoriety for making prisoners wear pink underwear and housing them in an outdoor tent city so hot that the inmates’ shoes melted.
The sheriff’s office had spent the previous year carrying out a constitutionally dubious dragnet search for undocumented immigrants. Patrol deputies became expert at inventing pretexts for stopping the “load cars” that ferried immigrants through the county to points across the nation. Sheriffs descended on neighborhoods where day laborers waited for people willing to pay for their work. Voters repeatedly re-elected Arpaio as he carried out his pledge to transform the sheriff’s office into “a full-fledged anti-illegal immigration agency.”