ACLU Sues ‘Sheriff Joe’ for Racial Profiling, Worksite Detentions

Rose Arrieta

Inmates walk after being ordered by Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio (R) to be placed into new housing to open up new beds for maximum security inmates on April 17, 2009 in Phoenix, Ariz.

Mari­co­pa Coun­ty Sher­iff Joe Arpaio and sev­er­al of his deputies are fac­ing a law­suit claim­ing they ille­gal­ly arrest­ed, trans­port­ed and detained a U.S. cit­i­zen and a per­ma­nent legal res­i­dent at a work­site in Phoenix, Ariz., where deputies were con­duct­ing an immi­gra­tion raid.

The Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union and the ACLU of Ari­zona filed the suit August 19 on behalf of Julian Mora, 66, and his son Julio, 19.

The inci­dent took place on Feb­ru­ary 11, when Julio Mora was dri­ving his dad to work. Accord­ing to the suit, just 100 yards from where the elder Mora worked at land­scap­ing busi­ness Handy­man Main­te­nance, Inc. (HMI), a Mari­co­pa Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office vehi­cle cut in front of pick-up truck on a busy pub­lic road, forc­ing Mora to slam on his brakes. Anoth­er MCSO SUV flanked the truck.

Two deputies ordered the father and son to get out. They were frisked and restrained with tight plas­tic zip-tie hand­cuffs and tak­en to Mora’s work­place, the site of the raid. The two joined over 100 oth­ers who were cor­ralled into an area that was said to resem­ble a heav­i­ly guard­ed armed camp with men wear­ing masks and car­ry­ing semi-auto­mat­ic rifles.


Their sit­u­a­tion was extreme­ly unique. One of the most egre­gious aspects to the Moras [case] is the fact that they were not on the work­site. They were stopped and racial­ly pro­filed dur­ing a rou­tine traf­fic stop, then brought to the work­site. That makes it par­tic­u­lar­ly more prob­lem­at­ic and hard­er for the coun­ty to jus­ti­fy,” said Alessan­dra Sol­er Meet­ze, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ari­zona ACLU.

The suit, filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Ari­zona, chal­lenges the Mari­co­pa Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) deputies with vio­lat­ing the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth and the Four­teenth Amend­ments – which guar­an­tee equal pro­tec­tion and free­dom from unrea­son­able search and seizures and unlaw­ful dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of race, eth­nic­i­ty and/​or nation­al ori­gin. (For an In These TImes fea­ture sto­ry on Sher­iff Arpaio and his actions, go here.)

The suit also cites sev­er­al vio­la­tions of Arizona’s state con­sti­tu­tion. The suit is one of the first of its kind to chal­lenge Arapaio’s attempts to enforce the Legal Ari­zona Work­ers Act by raid­ing local busi­ness­es to find peo­ple sus­pect­ed of iden­ti­ty theft and fraud. The act, also known as the employ­er-sanc­tions law, went into effect in 2008.

The ACLU-Ari­zona reports that Mari­co­pa Coun­ty sher­iff deputies have stepped up local immi­gra­tion enforce­ment raids tar­get­ing sites with pre­dom­i­nant­ly Lati­no work­ers. So far no employ­ers have been con­vict­ed for employ­er-sanc­tions vio­la­tions.

Dur­ing their deten­tion at HMI, the elder Mora, who is dia­bet­ic and has dif­fi­cul­ty con­trol­ling his blad­der, was denied the use of the bath­room to the point of almost uri­nat­ing on him­self and was final­ly tak­en out­side to a park­ing lot to relieve him­self; both men were denied food and water.

It should be not­ed that Mora is a legal per­ma­nent res­i­dent and has been for 30 years. His son is a U.S. cit­i­zen, born and raised in Ari­zona. That appar­ent­ly didn’t mat­ter to deputies when they pulled the two over. Despite pro­vid­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, the Moras were tak­en to the deten­tion area.

They thought it was a rou­tine traf­fic stop. They had no idea why they were being tak­en or where they were they were being tak­en to,” said Sol­er Meet­ze.

We were treat­ed like crim­i­nals and nev­er told why. I was very scared. I nev­er thought some­thing like this would hap­pen to me. Now I know it can hap­pen to any­one, cit­i­zens too,” said Julio Mora.

Since Arizona’s employ­er sanc­tions law and the fed­er­al 287(g) pro­gram have been put in place, deputies can now ques­tion and arrest work­ers for alleged vio­la­tions of fed­er­al immi­gra­tion law. 287(g) pro­gram gives local law enforce­ment the pow­ers of fed­er­al agents when they enter into agree­ments with Home­land Security’s Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforcement. 

The pro­gram has been wide­ly crit­i­cized for increas­ing the use of racial pro­fil­ing and tar­get­ing immi­grants for arrest who are not sus­pect­ed of a crime. In Jan­u­ary, the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office released a crit­i­cal report stat­ing the pro­gram need­ed bet­ter con­trols and more clar­i­ty.

Ear­li­er this year Julio Mora gave wit­ness tes­ti­mo­ny about his ordeal in a joint fed­er­al sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing April 2 on the impli­ca­tion 287(g) on civ­il rights.

To this day, I don’t know why the offi­cers stopped us out of all the cars on the road. Maybe it was because of the Campesina radio sta­tion stick­er on our bumper or maybe it’s because my dad was wear­ing his Mex­i­can tejana [hat] and they thought we were ille­gal. But they nev­er both­ered to ask us,” stat­ed the Julio Mora.

Oth­er defen­dants named in the suit are Ray Jones, a cap­tain with the MCSO and Com­man­der of the Enforce­ment Sup­port Divi­sion; Lt. Joe Sousa, who also heads the Human Smug­gling Unit with the Enforce­ment Sup­port divi­sion; and four unnamed deputies.

Said Mora towards the end of his fed­er­al tes­ti­mo­ny April 2:

My dad says he’s always tried to pro­tect me from these kinds of things, but that day I saw a man beg­ging an offi­cer not to deport him, offer­ing him some can­dy as a bribe. It opened my eyes to what is hap­pen­ing in Ari­zona. Most of the peo­ple in my neigh­bor­hood, they are just try­ing to get by and make a bet­ter life for their kids. The police are sup­posed to keep us safe, but they are arrest­ing us instead of the real crim­i­nals. I still think of that day some­times when I have to go to the bath­room. And I still think of the guy with the can­dy. They took away our pride – my dad’s, this man’s, and mine.

In a relat­ed sto­ry, a suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of immi­grants who have been detained for more than six months with­out receiv­ing bond hear­ings can go for­ward as a class action. The civ­il rights agency received approval today from a fed­er­al appeals court in California. 

Rep­re­sent­ing the immi­grants are the ACLU of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the ACLU, the Stan­ford Law School Immi­grants’ Rights Clin­ic and the law firm of Sid­ley Austin LLP. The suit was orig­i­nal­ly filed in May 2007 on behalf of Ale­jan­dro Rodriguez, a Mex­i­can immi­grant who was held for more than three years with­out ever receiv­ing a bond hearing.

Rose Arri­eta was born and raised in Los Ange­les. She has worked in print, broad­cast and radio, both main­stream and com­mu­ni­ty ori­ent­ed — includ­ing being a for­mer edi­tor of the Bay Area’s inde­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ty bilin­gual biweek­ly El Tecolote. She cur­rent­ly lives in San Fran­cis­co, where she is a free­lance jour­nal­ist writ­ing for a vari­ety of out­lets on social jus­tice issues.
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