By Julie Hirschfeld Davis
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff whose aggressive efforts to hunt down and detain undocumented immigrants made him a national symbol of the divisive politics of immigration and earned him a criminal contempt conviction.
Trump, who made cracking down on illegal immigration a signature campaign issue and had pressed for local officials to do more to assist federal authorities in rounding up undocumented people, had been openly flirting with the idea of pardoning Arpaio.
"I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy," the president said Tuesday night at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, after asking, "Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?"
Arpaio, 85, served for 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, building a national reputation for harsh conditions in his county jail, and for his campaign against undocumented immigrants.
The criminal conviction grew out of a lawsuit filed a decade ago charging that the sheriff's office regularly violated the rights of Latinos, stopping people based on racial profiling, detaining them based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally, and turning them over to the immigration authorities.
A federal district judge hearing the case ordered Arpaio in 2011 to stop detaining people based solely on suspicion of their immigration status, when there was no evidence that a state law had been broken. But the sheriff insisted that his tactics were legal and that he would continue employing them.
He was convicted last month of criminal contempt of court for defying the order, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.