The reaction was equally blistering from Arpaio’s supporters, who accused the administration of targeting him for political reasons amid its broader crackdown on new state immigration laws. A different Justice Department division has sued four states over their laws, and the first such suit was filed against Arizona.
“The Justice Department has been turned into an attack dog to sic on anybody who tries to enforce immigration laws,’’ said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors tough immigration enforcement.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the administration “has been gunning for Arpaio for a long time. . . . His efforts on immigration law enforcement help keep everybody in this country safer.’’
Civil rights groups and other administration allies applauded the Justice Department. “After nearly 20 years in office, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign of terror against immigrants in Maricopa County, Arizona, is on its last legs,’’ said Angela M. Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, saying she was “troubled” by the findings of the Justice Department report, announced that her department is ending the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in a program that deputizes local police officers to enforce immigration laws and flag illegal immigrants to federal officials.
In the report, Justice said Arpaio’s department has engaged in a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing” by unlawfully stopping, detaining and arresting Hispanics. Once in jail, the report said, Hispanics are punished if they fail to understand commands in English and denied access to basic services such as new clothes or sheets or information about early-release programs.
The report takes aim at Arpaio’s crime sweeps, saying they have sometimes been initiated because the department received complaints that people with “dark skin” were congregating. It says detention officers hurl racial slurs at Hispanic inmates and that supervisors demean Hispanics in e-mails.
The report also says that the sheriff’s department uses excessive force against Hispanics — including one person deliberately struck with a patrol car and dragged more than 10 feet — and harasses critics with unfounded investigations and arrests. While focusing on immigration enforcement, the report said, the department has failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes and allowed violent crime to increase.