PHOENIX — A federal judge ruled on Friday that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies had violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by targeting them during raids and traffic stops here and throughout Maricopa County.
With his ruling, Judge G. Murray Snow of United States District Court delivered the most decisive defeat so far to Sheriff Arpaio, who has come to symbolize Arizona’s strict approach to immigration enforcement by making it the leading mission for many of the 800 deputies under his command at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
At 142 pages, the decision is peppered with stinging criticism of the policies and practices espoused by Sheriff Arpaio, who Judge Snow said had turned much of his focus to arresting immigrants who were in the country illegally, in most cases civil violations, at the expense of fighting crimes.
He said the sheriff relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos, using their ethnicity as the main basis for suspecting they were in the country illegally. Many of the people targeted were American citizens or legal residents.
“In an immigration enforcement context,” Judge Snow ruled, the sheriff’s office “did not believe that it constituted racial profiling to consider race as one factor among others in making law enforcement decisions.” In fact, he said its plans and policies confirmed that, “in the context of immigration enforcement,” deputies “could consider race as one factor among others.”
The ruling prohibits the sheriff’s office from using “race or Latino ancestry” as a factor in deciding to stop any vehicle with Latino occupants, or as a factor in deciding whether they may be in the country without authorization.
It also prohibits deputies from reporting a vehicle’s Latino occupants to federal immigration authorities or detaining, holding or arresting them, unless there is more than just a “reasonable belief” that they are in the country illegally. To detain them, the ruling said, the deputies must also have reasonable suspicion that the occupants are violating the state’s human-trafficking and employment laws or committing other crimes.
Tim Casey, a lawyer for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said the office intended to appeal, but in the meantime it would “comply with the letter and spirit of the court’s decision.”
He said the office’s position is that it “has never used race and never will use race to make any law enforcement decision.”
The office relied on training from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, he said, adding, “It’s obvious it received bad training from the federal government.”
The ruling is a result of a federal civil trial last summer in which Sheriff Arpaio and his office were accused in a class-action lawsuit of singling out Latinos for stops, questioning and detention. It says deputies considered the prevalence of Latinos when deciding where to carry out enforcement operations, in many cases in response to complaints based solely on assumptions that Latinos or “Mexicans,” as some complainants put it, were necessarily illegal immigrants.
Regardless of the type of enforcement — workplace raids, traffic stops or targeted patrols in areas frequented by day laborers — Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies were required to keep track of the number of people arrested on federal immigration violations, as well as state charges, Judge Snow said. In news releases, Sheriff Arpaio’s office often referred to the operations as integral parts of the sheriff’s “illegal immigrant stance.”
Cecillia Wang, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, said, “Let this be a warning to anyone who hides behind a badge to wage their own private campaign against Latinos or immigrants that there is no exception in the Constitution for violating people’s rights in immigration enforcement.”
Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from New York.