As the nation debates whether a new Arizona law against illegal immigration will lead to racial profiling, Latino activists and civil rights attorneys contend that profiling is already a reality in the Maricopa County, where two-thirds of the state’s residents live, reports the Los Angeles Times. For three years, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been perhaps the most aggressive law enforcement official in the U.S. in using his powers to enforce federal immigration laws. Since 2008, he has sent hundreds of his deputies and sworn volunteers on “sweeps” through immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, where they stop jaywalkers or drivers with broken taillights and ask for identification and immigration information.
An analysis by civil rights lawyers found 70 percent of those arrested in these operations have Spanish surnames. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale, is only 31 percent Latino, the majority of whom are legal residents or U.S. citizens. Arpaio’s tactics, which he says are necessary to suppress crime, have made him wildly popular in Arizona. The mass arrests have resulted in an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, lawsuits from civil rights lawyers and complaints even from longtime police supporters.