Anti-Arpaio Protest Today - marchers aim to raise national awareness (by JJ Hensley of The Arizona Republic)
In the 11 months since Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon kicked off the informal campaign against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with a speech at the Cesar Chavez luncheon, politicians and pundits from around the country have followed suit.
They've written letters calling for federal investigations, staged demonstrations at meetings of the county supervisors, picketed daily outside Arpaio's office in downtown Phoenix and held candlelight vigils.
And little has changed.
The profile of those calling for federal intervention has risen, from Gordon to the head of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers.
Still, workplace raids and immigration dragnets by the Sheriff's Office persist.
Today, organizers say nearly 1,000 demonstrators are scheduled to march through downtown Phoenix in another effort to call attention to Arpaio's immigration-enforcement tactics and the agreement with the federal government that allows sheriff's deputies to act as immigration officers.
"They're trying to use me as the whipping boy," Arpaio said.
"The underlying effort is to get the president to do something about illegal immigration," he added. "I have no objection (to the protest), but I'm not going to change my policies."
This protest does come with a dose of celebrity - former Rage Against the Machine lead singer Zach de la Rocha asked fans to join him in protesting Arpaio - but organizers agree with Arpaio that the march is designed to bring national attention to Maricopa County as much as it is to raise the awareness of residents.
"I think the people of Maricopa County have become numb to the outrageousness of Arpaio's actions," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and one of the march's organizers.
"The rest of the country is here to shake Maricopa County by the shoulders and say, 'What has happened in your community is not right,' " Newman said.
Voters failed to heed those same cries in the fall.
In the months leading up to Arpaio's victory over former Buckeye Police Chief Dan Saban, that was the consistent message from Arpaio's critics.
Arpaio went on to receive just more than 55 percent of the votes to win his fifth consecutive term in office.
That's probably part of the reason this incarnation of an anti-Arpaio campaign has a national flavor, said Michael McQuarrie, a sociology professor at the University of California-Davis.
"The civil-rights movement was successful by really leveraging national-level politicians and national-level allies and outflanking the local folks," McQuarrie said.
The tactics, goals and outcomes of the civil-rights movement are frequently invoked in this campaign against Arpaio, who is sometimes depicted as a "modern-day Bull Connor," the Birmingham, Ala., police commissioner who famously fought civil-rights activists with attack dogs and fire hoses.
Arpaio points out that he is simply enforcing the law, and if people want him to stop, they should change the laws.
Changing the federal policy that allows local law-enforcement agencies to serve as immigration officers is one of the main objectives to this weekend's activity, Newman said.
President Barack Obama, who appointed former Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of Homeland Security, has signaled a shift in immigration policy that would rely less on work-site enforcement and focus instead on employers who hire illegal immigrants and overall immigration reform.
Napolitano also has signaled her intent to review all immigration programs, including the 287 (g) agreement.
Even if that federal authority were voided, a pair of state laws would allow Arpaio to continue the workplace raids: using the state's employer sanctions law to launch ID-theft investigations and work-site enforcement, and arresting illegal immigrants on suspicion of being co-conspirators in their own smuggling.
Given the support residents here have shown for Arpaio, along with politicians and ballot measures that are tough on illegal immigrants, holding Arizona up as a national example of immigration enforcement gone wrong is the best hope for change, organizers said.
McQuarrie said the prospect of today's march getting lost in the wave of anti-Arpaio activism makes it imperative for organizers to seize on something positive.
"When the civil-rights people were doing the protest thing, that was sort of new. Now, protests have become an important performance, but it's accepted as performance, and it doesn't come with the same sort of moral outrage as it used to," he said.
"But protest often works because it forces people to make a choice. It's impossible to ignore the disruption."
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Shaun P. Attwood