Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who engaged in racial profiling in search of undocumented immigrants, housed prisoners in an infamous tent city, and alleged that President Barack Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate was a fake, is running for U.S. Senate.
Arpaio, 85, is seeking the Republican nomination in the race to replace Jeff Flake, a fellow GOPer who is leaving the Senate. The winner of the Republican primary is likely to face Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of the U.S. House and the leading candidate in her party’s Senate primary.
In announcing his run, Arpaio touted his closeness to Trump. “I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump,” Arpaio told the conservative Washington Examiner in an interview published today.
That support is mutual. Last August Trump issued a pardon that allowed Arpaio to avoid punishment after having been convicted of contempt of court. In July a federal judge convicted him of the charge for defying a court order that he stop the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department’s raids of largely Latino neighborhoods in search of undocumented immigrants. His deputies would detail people for minor violations and check their immigration status. The order had come down in 2012 from a judge who cited the fact that the sheriff’s department did not have authority to enforce federal immigration law. A year earlier, the Justice Department had found that the raids amounted to racial profiling.
Arpaio was sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993 to 2016, when he finally lost a race for reelection. The county is Arizona’s most populous and includes the city of Phoenix.
In his interview with the Examiner, Arpaio offered a twist on how to deal with undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, who will soon face deportation under Trump if Congress doesn’t pass legislation to offer them the legal status many received under a now-rescinded Obama executive order. “I have a far-out plan, which may look stupid,” he said. “When they come to your attention that they’re here illegally, these young people, deport them back to Mexico — or whatever — and then try to put them on a fast track to come back into the United States legally with special permits. What’s wrong with that? They’d say they don’t know where their home country is, so let them go there and spend six months, because it might take that long to do paperwork to get them here legally and let them see their home country and see what it's really like. They ought to be proud where they came from. I’m proud being an Italian American. I’m proud of Italy. I’m proud my father, mother came over, proud of it. So, you could kill two birds with one stone.”
In addition to his anti-immigrant record, Arpaio became infamous for erecting a “tent city” outdoor jail where inmates endured the intense Arizona summer heat. He once joked that the tent city amounted to a concentration camp. Prisoners housed there were mostly Latino, and he once called it “the tent where all the Mexicans are.” Inmates “were put into chain gangs and subjected to humiliating practices like public parades,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, in a report posted at the time of his pardon. They also received inadequate health care and were often subjected to solitary confinement, and female inmates were frequently denied clean clothing or sheets to replace items stained with menstrual blood, the ACLU reported. Also at that time, the Human Rights Campaign noted that Arpaio used “anti-LGBTQ schemes to humiliate prisoners,” a reference to the policy of making all inmates wear pink underwear.
While Arpaio’s department was rounding up immigrants and mistreating prisoners, it ignored sex crime cases, an Associated Press investigation found in 2011. The AP determined that over a three-year period, more than 400 sex crimes reported to the department “were inadequately investigated and in some instances were not worked at all.” Many of them involved the children of undocumented immigrants.
Arpaio is also known for retaliating against political adversaries and using various bizarre schemes for the sake of publicity. “In one infamous case, people working under Arpaio staged an assassination attempt against him in order to boost his popularity — framing an innocent man in the process,” the AC:LU reports. “He spent four years in jail waiting to clear his name and eventually received a $1.1 million settlement.”
And Arpaio is likewise known for his “investigation” of Obama’s birth certificate, which he claims is forged. Many opponents of Obama contended he was not born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to be president.
Another far-right candidate is also seeking the nomination -- the anti-trans, anti-immigrant Kelli Ward, who has ties to Steve Bannon and the Mercer family of conservative megadonors. National Republican leaders would like to see a run by the more mainstream Martha McSally, currently in the U.S. House; she is expected to make an announcement Friday, CNN reports. In the Democratic primary, Sinema, a three-term House member, has few serious challengers. She would be the first out bisexual U.S. senator. She has the endorsement of HRC and Victory Fund. The primaries will be August 28.