Arizona sheriff illegally used racial profiling, judge rules

TUCSON — A federal judge has ruled that the immigration enforcement policies of the man who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" violated the Constitution by using racial profiling.

For years, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has ordered his deputies to detain people they suspect of residing in the country illegally and to hold them for federal authorities.

The 142-page ruling issued Friday by Judge G. Murray Snow came as part of a lawsuit brought on behalf of Latino plaintiffs who asserted that race was a major factor in initiating immigration enforcement stops.

Snow wrote that the sheriff's practices did in fact rely heavily on race, violating the Constitution's 4th and 14th amendments. The 4th Amendment guards against unreasonable search and seizure; the 14th Amendment was created to cement the rights of U.S. citizens.

Attorney Tim Casey, who represents the Sheriff's Office, said the agency would comply with the judge's order but pursue an appeal.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office "is disappointed in the decision reached today," Casey said. "The position was and always has been that race is not used to make law enforcement decisions."

He also suggested that if there were problems, they arose from training deputies received from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency. "There was some bad training," he said.

ICE officials could not immediately be reached for comment Friday evening.

Maricopa County is home to Arizona's biggest city, Phoenix, and has significant Latino and immigrant populations.

In his ruling, Snow took issue with many of the six-term sheriff's actions. The judge noted that deputies frequented places where day laborers gather. In four day-labor sweeps he cited, none of the 35 people arrested was detained for violation of state or local laws, and all were passengers in vehicles, not drivers.

Snow issued an order immediately and permanently barring the Sheriff's Office from detaining or arresting Latinos or stopping Latinos in vehicles simply because of a suspicion they may be in the country illegally.

Snow noted that at one time the federal Department of Homeland Security — which oversees enforcement of immigration laws — had authorized the Sheriff's Office to use race as a factor in determining who should be detained. However, Homeland Security officials have since retracted that right, an act that formed the basis for most of Snow's decision.

Friday's ruling was cheered by immigrant rights activists.

"Today's decision vindicates the rights of Latinos in Maricopa County who've been terrorized by discriminatory [Sheriff's Office] practices and have had their communities torn apart," Dan Pochoda, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said in a statement. "The court recognized that racial profiling within the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is a pervasive and widespread problem that can only be addressed through substantive, meaningful changes to eradicate this egregious practice and begin rebuilding public trust."

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