Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008 | 12:37 p.m.
Sun Expanded Coverage
Lou Dobbs, (5-23-2007)
(The Sun has gone on the road to listen to voters and talk to political leaders around the West. Reporters will examine the economic, cultural and demographic forces re-shaping the region as they drive to Denver for the first of the two major party conventions the Sun will cover.)
PHOENIX — We waited for a phone call Wednesday from Sheriff Joe Arpaio's press people.
It never came.
Arpaio is the long-time sheriff of Maricopa County, which is sort of the Phoenix equivalent of Clark County. Arpaio, who's running for re-election, has been rounding up illegal immigrants in raids around the county since earlier this year. He uses as many as 200 deputies, what he calls a posse, to serve warrants and make traffic stops. Anyone who can't prove American citizenship gets hauled in.
Civil rights advocates say the areas they hit seem to always be poor, Hispanic areas. (Though Arpaio did sweep the parking lot of the Home Depot in his wealthy, white enclave, according to a local TV producer who covers immigration.)
In two of the raids in which we saw data about the arrest, about half turned out to be illegal immigrants.
In one sense, that proves his point that illegal immigrants come here with impunity and the feds aren't taking action, so the local lawman is.
If you were one of those people wrongly detained, you might think differently. (You might also be bothered if you weren't wrongly detained, but don't think the government, which has a legal monopoly on violence, should be allowed to round people up just because they can't prove citizenship.)
A class action lawsuit challenges the policy.
Here's what's a little strange about the sheriff's actions: He apparently tips off the media about his sweeps, and then has big press events when he's finished. He marches the suspects before reporters and producers, though media are not allowed to show faces. (That would be inhumane.)
We are not sure why his office wouldn't call us back. We're told he may be re-examining his media strategy. (Up until now, the strategy has apparently been this: all media, all the time. He sent out a press release recently instructing local media not to call the pager, which is now reserved for national media only.)
Sheriff Joe also sweeps the streets of Phoenix for illegal food vendors.
Here's how he describes himself on his own official Web site (bear in mind, this not his campaign Web site):
"You probably know him as 'America's Toughest Sheriff[, a name given to him by the media years ago. It's a name he certainly has earned as the head of the nation's fourth largest Sheriff's Office. But even before he became Sheriff in 1993, Joe Arpaio was one tough law man."
As a Vegas resident, it's quite satisfying, if a little strange, to come to Phoenix and be able to say of one of its elected officials: "The people of Las Vegas would never allow this guy to get into office."
A larger -- and very important -- point can be made about the sheriff, and the long term ramifications of his reign on Arizona and Nevada politics.
We'll explore it in detail in our Sunday story.