When historians look back on Joe Arpaio’s legacy as Maricopa County, Az., sheriff, one thing they are likely to weigh heavily is the outcome of a 4 1/2-year-old racial-profiling lawsuit that will finally be heard this month, the Arizona Republic reports. The case alleges that the sheriff’s office engaged in institutional discrimination against Latinos when it embarked on what has become the defining mission of Arpaio’s 19-year tenure: immigration enforcement.
Over the past six years, Arpaio has made it his hallmark, but his efforts have been met by accusations — by citizens, activists, and the U.S. Justice Department — that his agency has engaged in racial profiling and discrimination. The class-action suit marks the first opportunity for those claims to be put to a legal test. A U.S. district judge’s ruling in the matter will determine whether it is possible for a local law-enforcement agency to serve as immigration cop without racially profiling. “In many ways, this is a landmark case,” Arpaio attorney Tim Casey told the court. The case began when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist who was in the U.S. legally, was stopped outside a church where day laborers were known to gather. Melendres, the passenger in a car driven by a white driver, says deputies detained him for nine hours and that the detention was unlawful.