Joe Arpaio’s reputation as a tough-on-immigration sheriff in Arizona is garnering him rock-star status among Tea Party members. And increasingly his influence is extending outside the borders of his home state. Last weekend he headlined a fundraiser for Colorado gubernatorial candidate and Tea Party fave Tom Tancredo.
Arpaio joined Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman in singing the praises of Tancredo, whose anti-immigration bona fides—he lambastes the “cult of multiculturalism”—are as impeccable as those of the sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Arizona’s capital Phoenix. And early in September, Arpaio gave a strong thumbs-up for Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate trying to unseat Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid in next-door Nevada. Angle reciprocated by stating every state needed a police chief like Arpaio.
For the five-term elected lawman, going after illegals involves more than stopping them crossing the border.
“Let’s say lock them up in the interior,” he declared at a rally near the border with Mexico, organized in part by the Tea Party Caucus. He claims to have arrested, investigated and detained more than 40,000 migrants in the past three years, in part by having officers stop people in immigrant neighbourhoods for minor infractions, such as jaywalking, and then ask their immigration status. Critics call the technique racial profiling, a charge Arpaio denies.
Tea Party members like what they see in the rough-spoken police officer. “We’ve debated among ourselves what role immigration and the things that Sheriff Joe is doing, for instance, should have in the movement,” said Rob Gaudet, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. “In the end, we took the stand that being here illegally affects the marketplace and the availability of jobs.”
Arizona has been the blazing-hot centre of a political debate even before the state passed a tough anti-migrant law earlier this year giving police broad powers to detain suspected illegal migrants, and making it a crime for immigrants to not carry proof they are legal residents. Currently, the contentious parts of the act are in limbo, pending a federal court challenge.
While the state law is under attack, so is Arpaio. In early September, the Department of Justice sued “America’s toughest sheriff,” alleging that his department wouldn’t co-operate with an investigation into whether it discriminated against Hispanics. Arpaio responded by saying he believed the lawsuit was “camouflage” for an attempt to rein in his immigrant sweeps. Last week, he disbanded an anti-corruption squad, under investigation by Washington, that had been accused of targeting political opponents of the popular sheriff. Last week also saw accusations that his sheriff’s office misused up to US$80 million on unauthorized charges, including a Honduran resort stay and even a US$500 carriage ride.
Those concerns don’t bother the Tea Party. On Oct. 9, Arpaio will be the big draw at Tucson’s second annual Tea Party rally. For US$100, participants get air-conditioned suites and the chance to meet the sheriff and the other speakers. The event is almost sold out.