Earlier this year, Arizona’s controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio exploited the H1N1 “swine flu” scare to argue that it should “underscore the need for illegal immigration enforcement.” Today, GQ has posted a piece by Alexander Provan in which the Sheriff suggests that undocumented immigrants should be checked like “fruits and vegetables” because they are “diseased” and “dirty”:
“All these people that come over, they could come with disease. There’s no control, no health checks or anything. They check fruits and vegetables, how come they don’t check people? No one talks about that! They’re all dirty. I sent out 200 inmates into the desert, they picked up 18 tons of garbage that they bring in—the baby diapers and all that. Where’s everybody who wants to preserve the desert?”
Whether he’s an “idiot savant” or the “Bull Connor of our generation,” Arpaio’s hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric and controversial immigration enforcement tactics have allowed him to make a name for himself. However, Provan points out that Arpaio’s convictions against undocumented immigrants weren’t always so strong. In 2005, Army reservist Patrick Haab was arrested by Arpaio’s men for holding seven suspected undocumented immigrants face down in the desert at gunpoint. Haab was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. According to Provan, at the time Arpaio held that “being illegal is not a serious crime. You can’t go to jail for being an illegal alien.” Arpaio told the Arizona Republic’s Michael Kiefer:
“I want the authority to lock up smugglers, but I am not going to lock up illegals hanging around street corners. I’m not going to waste my resources going after a guy in a truck when he picks up five illegals to go trim palm trees.”
Haab was never prosecuted thanks to a legal loophole found by the newly elected county attorney at the time — Andrew Thomas — who had run on an anti-immigrant platform. Thomas made national headlines and appeared on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes “to brag about what he’d done” and Arpaio learned his lesson.
Four years later, Haab could just sign up for Arpaio’s posse program which allows regular armed citizens to hunt down undocumented immigrants as long as they can provide their own weapons and pass a 160 hour law enforcement class. Arpaio loves to brag about locking up 32,000 supposedly “diseased” immigrants for smuggling themselves across the border, even though it meant creating a $1.3 million deficit in just three months. Provan notes that Arpaio brushes off the fact that he hasn’t caught any major smugglers or kingpins because going after gardners and dishwashers helps him make sure he doesn’t “lose touch with the street.”
Arpaio has made his own national headlines recently due to his theatrical response to the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to change his agreement with federal immigration authorities in way that will only allow him to check the immigration status of his inmates, not enforce immigration law on the streets of Maricopa County. ICE head John Morton has yet to officially sign off.