The downfall of Joe Arpaio

A grassroots campaign driven by Latino teenagers threatens to end the sheriff’s 23-year reign.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA — Early Saturday morning, residents of a quiet, dusty corner of West Phoenix came to their doorways in their pajamas, mouths open in surprise, to watch a very strange parade roll past.

In front was a rickety school bus painted red, blasting cumbia music, its windows bearing scribbled messages urging onlookers to “Vote Against Hate on November 8.” Behind it rolled a white pickup truck, and in its bed stood a massive, inflatable effigy of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio wearing prison stripes and a pair of handcuffs.

Behind the truck marched dozens of people — older mothers, gangly high school students, local clergy — chanting in Spanish, “He will fall, he will fall, Joe Arpaio will fall.”

As dogs howled, children pointed and laughed, and parents came out to their front yards to snap pictures of the scene, volunteers broke off from the parade to hand them fliers telling them where they can vote on Tuesday and why they should make the effort to show up at their polling places.

“He will fall, he will fall, Joe Arpaio will fall.”

“A lot of people only think about Trump and Hillary. They don’t think about the local races,” said Daphne Cervantes, senior at North High School who says she has spent every free moment over the past few months volunteering with the campaign to unseat Sheriff Arpaio.

After 23 years in office, Arpaio is running for reelection despite the federal charges looming over him. In December, he will stand trial for criminal contempt because he allegedly violated a judge’s order to stop illegally racially profiling Latinos. He also faces possible charges for obstruction of justice and perjury. If convicted, he could face up to six months in jail.

But Cervantes and other Maricopa County teenagers who have never known a life without Arpaio’s harsh and sometimes illegal immigration enforcement tactics want to make sure he is voted out of office before he stands trial at all.

“I know all of the damage he’s done. It’s time we show him that we’re not going to stand for it any longer,” she told ThinkProgress. “We, the people that he’s targeted, are not going to let him do it anymore.”

Daphne Cervantes marches in the streets with the Bazta Arpaio campaign. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
Daphne Cervantes marches in the streets with the Bazta Arpaio campaign. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

According to a Justice Department investigation in 2012, Arpaio used to set up checkpoints that stopped and questioned residents based on the color of their skin, detained people without a warrant simply because they were Latino, and used excessive force against suspected undocumented immigrants. He kept inmates in an outdoor “tent city” prison where temperatures reached 140 degrees, denied diabetic inmates access to medicine, and ran a department that routinely used racial slurs and derogatory terms including “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans,” and “stupid Mexicans.”

In 2011, a court banned Arpaio’s department from detaining anyone solely based on the suspicion that they might be an undocumented immigrant. They continued to do so for at least 18 more months. In 2013, the court appointed a monitor to make sure Arpaio stopped the illegal racial profiling tactics and complied with mandatory reforms. Arpaio did not comply.

The ensuing court battles have cost Arizona taxpayers more than $50 million dollars.

The latest polls show Arpaio trailing his challenger Paul Penzone by 15 points, but Latino activists and their allies aren’t taking any chances. They’re knocking on thousands of doors across the county and holding rallies and marches aimed at ensuring that those who disagree with the controversial sheriff actually make it to the polls.

The “Bazta Arpaio” campaign — whose name is a play on the state’s initials and the Spanish word for “enough”—hopes that the same voters who turn out against Arpaio will cast their votes to take down another boogeyman of the Latino community: Donald Trump.

An anti-Trump sign at Bazta Arpaio’s Saturday rally. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
An anti-Trump sign at Bazta Arpaio’s Saturday rally. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

Arpaio and Trump were first drawn together by “birtherism” — the conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. Even after the president released his long-form birth certificate, Arpaio spent taxpayer money to send agents to Hawaii to try to disprove his citizenship.

When Trump took over the Republican Party this year with promises to build a massive border wall and deport millions of undocumented immigrants, Arpaio was often by his side. The two appeared together at rallies in Arizona, heaping praise on one another, and Arpaio was granted a plum speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in July.

“Trump’s a fighter,” Arpaio told the Washington Post in late October. “That’s his personality. He’s got to fight back and defend himself. He’ll defend our country the same way.”

Though Arpaio’s continued reign would most directly impact the lives of Phoenix’s immigrant community, residents told ThinkProgress they also fear a Trump presidency.

Maricruz Ramirez is the mother of three children currently enrolled in President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants some undocumented youth protection from deportation and the ability to work legally.

“This presidential election will determine if my children can keep their Deferred Action,” Ramirez told ThinkProgress as she prepared to hit the streets with the Bazta Arpaio campaign.

Trump has said he will “immediately terminate” the DACA program and has refused to say whether he would deport DREAMers like Ramirez’s children.

Maricruz Ramirez prepares to canvas West Phoenix. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
Maricruz Ramirez prepares to canvas West Phoenix. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

More than a decade ago, Ramirez fled with her three children from Hidalgo, Mexico with the dream of opening a beauty salon. But lacking papers, she took whatever work she could find — as a nanny, housecleaner, waitress, and janitor. When the state passed SB1070, an immigration enforcement law later struck down by the Supreme Court, Arpaio’s sheriffs began stopping Latino drivers and demanding their papers. Ramirez quit driving out of fear of deportation.

“We didn’t know how to get to work, how to get our kids to school,” she said. “I remember the despair we felt when SB1070 passed, the fear and isolation.”

Ramirez remained in the shadows until 2012, when her teenage children joined a march protesting Arpaio’s policies. “I saw their true courage and I want to fight for them too,” she said. “I began getting organized, learning my rights, helping my people. I joined the fight.”

Today, Ramirez is one of Bazta Arpaio’s most relentless organizers. “I have been canvassing every single day,” she said. “I’ve talked to hundreds of voters. I tell them, ‘You have the privilege of voting. You can be my voice. You can change all this hate and racism and anti-immigrant laws.’”

For Cervantes, the fight is also personal.

When she was 11 years old, deputies in Arpaio’s department detained her mother, who is undocumented, while she was walking to the grocery store. The sheriffs turned her over to immigration authorities who deported her to Mexico.

“I was scared,” she said. “I just knew they were taking her away from me. I didn’t know for how long.”

Cervantes didn’t reunite with her mother until three years later.

“It was tough growing up without her,” she said. “I was turning from a little kid into a teenager. When I was in middle school, kids were really mean and they bullied me. I needed my mom and I needed comfort.”

Cervantes can’t herself vote against Arpaio — she’s 17 years old. But she can make sure as many people as possible do so on her behalf.

“We’ve been canvassing every day of the week,” she said excitedly, swinging her long dark hair out of her face. “After school, we go right to our assigned location and jump into it. On the weekends, we have mornings and afternoons. We’re going really hard-core.”

After the mini parade Saturday morning, Bazta Arpaio’s leaders huddled in a public park to fire up volunteers for one of the final days of canvassing.

Adriana Garcia, another young DACA recipient, stood in front of the swaying effigy of Arpaio in prison garb and implored her fellow activists to keep their spirits up.

“I know it’s early,” she said into a megaphone. “I know the days are long, but we have just a couple more days to get this Señor out of office and make sure he doesn’t terrorize our families anymore.”