Pro-Immigrant Protesters and Hispanic Media Confront Sheriff Arpaio in Southern California

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona was clearly enjoying his starring role at a series of fundraisers last week in Southern California.

The sheriff, known for his aggressive tactics against undocumented immigrants in and around Phoenix, happily chatted with reporters — even the citizen reporters that were part of a protest against him –at an event on Thursday in Anaheim, Orange County before heading to Mission Bay, San Diego, for a second fundraiser.

The self-described “toughest sheriff in the country” came to California to support an underdog sheriff´s candidate: Bill Hunt in Orange County. On Friday, he did the same for Jay La Sur in San Diego County in a move that is certain to bring the immigration issue to the fore in those races, both to be decided next year.

Watch Pilar Marrero’s video of Sheriff Arpaio’s visit to Anaheim, California.

At first, Arpaio seemed irritated by the protests that awaited him as he arrived at the event in Anaheim. But then he seemed to relish the opportunity to face the cameras in California as he often does in Arizona. “Why are they always following me? When I went to the O’Brien show and the Colbert show in New York they were there too,” he said to puzzled reporters who were asking him about his controversial law enforcement policies.

Pro-immigrant groups organized protests and showed up at the events carrying signs that read “We are human” and chanted anti-Arpaio slogans. “Arriba el pueblo, abajo Arpaio,” (“Up with the people, down with Arpaio”) they repeated, as some played instruments and banged on drums and a Native American burned sweetgrass to chase away bad energy.

Reporters at the event, mostly from Spanish-language media, asked him about his immigration arrests, accusations of racial profiling and the recent report that he is being investigated by the FBI for going after political enemies. “They can say whatever they want, I know we are doing the right thing. I represent the people and the people like what I am doing,” said Arpaio.

Arpaio has been elected five times by his constituents in Arizona. But the federal government (Department of Justice, civil rights division) has its eyes on the sheriff and is investigating his department for allegedly using racial profiling and denying adequate health care to inmates in the county jails. Two separate investigations could lead to a civil lawsuit or a consent decree similar to the one the Los Angeles Police Department was under for several years until sufficient reforms were instituted to pass muster under federal civil rights laws.

Local political observers in California pointed out that Arpaio’s support will help bring in anti-immigrant campaign funds for sheriff’s candidates who are not particularly favored to win, but whose campaigns could help push local law enforcement towards a more active role than they currently have in enforcing immigration law.

“This sounds like something the tea party people can put their money on,” said political analyst and USC professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. “By next year, he could become part of the conservative movement that split the Republicans in upstate New York in the recent congressional election,” she added.

Both Orange and San Diego Counties have 287 (g) agreements with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that authorize local officials to enforce federal immigration laws. But those agreements only allow the counties to carry out this function in local jails. It’s similar to the agreement between Sheriff Arpaio’s department and the federal government.

Recently federal authorities revoked an agreement that allowed Arpaio’s deputies to carry out immigration enforcement on the street as well.

Arpaio told the media this week that the Department of Homeland Security’s actions were insignificant. “You know what I did the day after (Homeland Security secretary) Janet Napolitano, whom I have known for many years, did that? I went out and arrested 100 more. We don’t need the federal government, we have state laws and we can enforce federal laws,” Arpaio said before heading into the fundraiser where for $150 attendees could have their photo taken with the Arizona lawman.