The New York Times recently reported that Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., was just convicted by United States District Judge Susan R. Bolton of criminal contempt of court. The court order that Arpaio violated was issued by Judge G. Murray Snow in 2011 and required an immediate halt of detention of persons in Arizona based only on that person’s immigration status. Arizona’s racial profiling of Hispanic immigrants has been the subject of national debate for years now.
Even though the order was upheld in the appeals court, Arpaio continued to speak openly about his disapproval of the court order and plans to continue to root out undocumented immigrants even if there was no evidence that they had actually committed a crime. Arpaio drew the attention of the national media for his outspoken stance on illegal immigration and willingness to disobey court orders in order to crack down on illegal immigration in Arizona. His 24 years as sheriff were wrought with contention over accusations that Arpaio consistently violated civil rights of Latinos and endorsed unsubstantiated racial profiling. Arpaio was never one to shy away from the limelight and appeared to enjoy the national attention that he drew for his often illegal stances on arrest policies.
In addition to his controversial position on racial profiling, Arpaio was also known for purposely creating poor prison conditions and forcing inmates into humiliating situations. For example, he was credited with requiring that all prisoners wear feminine underwear and refused to feed them edible food. He was also infamous for refusing to release undocumented immigrants past their release dates so that they could be detained by federal agents and denied residency in the U.S. Arpaio seemed to only be more emboldened by negative press coverage of his racist and unconstitutional stances against human rights for migrants and the Hispanic community.
Arpaio’s tactics were not limited to just inmates or undocumented immigrants. There is also evidence that he abused his office in investigating his political opponents so that he could always come out ahead in the polls. Arpaio was not exactly secretive about his behaviors and often thought that he was beyond the reach of the law. His lawyer in the most recent criminal contempt proceedings says that Arpaio views his refusal to follow the court’s order on racial profiling as a form of necessary civil disobedience and would never submit to a court order that he thought would circumvent his authority to enforce state law. Suffice it to say that Arpaio showed no remorse whatsoever in receiving the news of his latest conviction and has no plans to stay quiet about it in the near future.
The only silver lining to Arpaio’s disgraceful behavior and refusal to follow the law is that civil advocacy groups have been galvanized to fight back against injustice in Arizona. One of the incidents that launched an admirable commitment to civil activism in Arizona occurred on October 18, 2007, when Maricopa County deputies arrested two writers, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, under the order of Arpaio.
The only reason that these men were thrown behind bars was that they investigated and wrote about abuses of power in Arpaio’s office. They were responsible for publishing a story about grand jury subpoenas issued by Arpaio’s office to journalists so that the sheriff could get ahold of the personal Internet browsing history of the people covering unfavorable stories about him.
Lacey and Larkin were released from prison in less than 24 hours, and all charges against them were immediately dropped. This was only because the incident received national news coverage, and Arpaio was no longer able to hide behind the power of his office. The press continued to cover this episode all the way through the court order and settlement because of its lasting effect on First Amendment rights for journalists around the country. The fact that the sheriff’s office so blatantly and unapologetically violated the constitutional rights of journalists to protect its own office generated national outrage and was viewed as terribly troubling by many activist groups.
This incident launched the creation of the Frontera Fund by Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. The men worked together to protect the rights of Latinos in Arizona so that they would have a way to fight back against the civil rights abuses at the hands of Arpaio’s office. The Frontera Fund was created using the proceeds of a $3.7 million settlement that was awarded to Lacey and Larkin against Maricopa County in 2013. Instead of using this incident for their own personal gain, Lacey and
Larkin and Lacey chose to be agents of change in the fight against racial discrimination and profiling in Arizona. Their decision has been applauded by human rights activists everywhere and was a major step in the right direction of protecting marginalized racial groups in the U.S.
The work of the Frontera Fund has become even more critical in the wake of a national backlash against migrants and the Hispanic Community. The foundation works to support other organizations that speak out on behalf of migrant rights and connects activists across the country to draw a line in the sand against racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants.
Given that Lacey and Larkin have backgrounds as successful journalists, the Frontera Fund also has a strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights throughout the country. Lacey and Larkin remain steadfast in their core belief that journalism is one of the best defenses against human rights abuses by those in power. The ability of investigative journalism to expose corruption and abuses at all levels of government is the reason why Lacey and Larkin believe so fiercely in the importance of protecting journalists from prosecution by government officials. Lacey and Larkin have been unbending in their support of the free and independent press. In light of their beliefs about the significance of the First Amendment, many other investigative journalists have joined their cause and write regularly to inform followers of the Frontera Fund about assaults on the Hispanic community throughout the U.S.