By SIMON ROMERO
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Few of President Donald Trump’s actions have touched a nerve among Latinos across the political spectrum in the United States quite like his pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was found guilty of criminal contempt after defying a federal judge’s order to stop targeting Latinos based solely on suspicion of their immigration status.
And this from a president who has called Mexican immigrants rapists, attacked a judge over his “Mexican heritage” and repeatedly vowed that Mexico, instead of the United States, would pay for a wall on the southern U.S. border.
Artemio Muniz, the chairman of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, said Friday night that he was “beyond disgusted” by the pardon, saying on Twitter that the move essentially placed Arpaio above the law. “Conservatives who claim rule of law are #fakenews.”
Such reactions to Trump’s pardon reflect the enduring outrage over Arpaio’s actions as the longtime sheriff of Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix. Before his ouster by voters in November, Arpaio gained notoriety as an immigration hard-liner and one of Trump’s most prominent supporters in the Southwest.
But Arpaio, 85, was also found guilty of criminal contempt just weeks ago in connection with a case that has caused tempers to flare in Arizona and around the country, for the past decade. Plaintiffs claimed that Arpaio regularly violated the rights of Latinos by racially profiling and detaining them.
U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton ruled that Arpaio had willfully violated a court order in 2011 to halt his practices. The ruling was hailed by many liberal and conservative Latinos as proof that justice could be served even on such a powerful figure as Arpaio, who could have faced up to six months in jail.
With the pardon, however, Trump is handing some of his most ardent critics a way to attack the president.
“Donald Trump is an absolute coward for pardoning a man who engaged in racist police practices,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. “Arpaio was finally found guilty, but this shows that the legal system cannot deliver justice. We’ll now seek justice through elections, and Republicans in open districts of Arizona should be on edge.”
But Trump’s actions could play well with some of his supporters. Many of them also liked the tactics of Arpaio, who called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” regularly held immigrants past their court-ordered release dates and, like Trump, questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
“There’s nothing that can be accomplished by finding Sheriff Joe guilty and putting an 85-year-old man in jail,” said Vera Anderson, 76, a Republican organizer and activist in Phoenix. “These same people have been after him politically for years,” she added, claiming that Arpaio was improperly targeted by his critics.