A new lawsuit has been filed against Arizona’s Maricopa County and its infamous sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who is already facing trial for criminal contempt of court stemming from a 2007 racial profiling case.
Arpaio has three weeks remaining as the county sheriff after losing his re-election bid in November.
Jacinta González, a Phoenix resident and the field director for the Arizona-based advocacy organization Mijente, alleges in a lawsuit filed this week that she was racially profiled and held unconstitutionally in March when she was arrested for protesting a rally held for then-Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
González was one of three protestors who locked their necks to a van’s window to delay the rally. All three protestors were charged with a misdemeanor for obstructing a highway, but it was Mijente’s field director who was transferred from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody based on one fact: her surname.
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González is a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, but according to her lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to Rewire by one of her attorneys, Ray A. Ybarra Maldonado, “Officers of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office unlawfully arrested Ms. Gonzalez and detained her overnight in solitary confinement without probable cause and based solely on an immigration detainer request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Profiling was the only reason González had an ICE detainer request against her, she asserts.
“All of these requests can be tied back to profiling. The only reason I had a detainer was because they saw my last name and place of birth. To them, that was sufficient, even though they had evidence in their possession that I am a U.S. citizen,” González said, referring to the driver’s license she presented when in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s custody.
ICE uses immigration detainer requests to arrest and detain those who may have committed immigration violations, but as González’s lawsuit notes, “ICE’s detainer requests are not supported by probable cause; not supported by a warrant or any other probable cause determination by a detached, neutral judicial officer; and are not in accordance with the limited warrantless arrest authority for alleged civil immigration violations.”
Police departments and sheriff’s offices decide if they will comply with ICE detainer requests. Under Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office has a long history of honoring these requests—and the office’s relationship with ICE is at the center of González’s lawsuit. “Defendants have a long history of aggressively—and illegally—collaborating with ICE to arrest individuals for alleged civil immigration violations,” the lawsuit alleges.
Accusations of being anti-immigrant, racist, and xenophobic have trailed Arpaio throughout his six terms as sheriff, before losing his seat to retired Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone in November’s election. Known for conducting workplace raids on suspected undocumented immigrants, Arpaio has a lengthy court record that sheds light on his virulently anti-immigrant approach to policing.
Arpaio and his deputies in 2011 were ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants who had not broken laws. In 2013, Snow ruled that Arpaio and his deputies were discriminating against Latinos and violating the 2011 order. Snow ruled this year that Arpaio was still arbitrarily detaining Latinos based on immigration suspicions, as Mother Jones reported.
The timing of the lawsuit may seem unusual: González’s detainment happened nine months ago and Arpaio will soon leave office. González told Rewire in a phone interview that she filed the suit because she wanted to make sure the lawsuit reflected what happened during Arpaio’s reign, highlighting policies he had for holding people on ICE detainer requests, which “have been found to be unconstitutional in many jurisdictions.” The lawsuit will also pass on to the new sheriff, which puts Penzone in the position to decide if he wants to continue using Arpaio’s practice of working with ICE and complying with unconstitutional detainer requests.
“We wanted to make sure it was very clear that Arpaio had committed this violation and that he was responsible for the policy, but for us, the almost bigger questions is what Sheriff Penzone will do in response,” González said. “Will he actually help us settle the lawsuit by changing this policy [of working with ICE], or is he going to continue operating like Arpaio?”
The lawsuits that have been filed against Arpaio and his office, including 2007’s Melendres v. Arpaio, have to do with racial profiling on the street, but Gonzalez and her representatives are trying to bring attention to the “rampant racial profiling and horrible discrimination” happening inside Maricopa County jails, the organizer said.
“What I often say to people is if this is what happened to me as a U.S. citizen, who is light-skinned and speaks perfect English, can you imagine what happens to other people? This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of violations of people’s rights inside,” González said. “There’s this assumption that if you’re undocumented, it’s OK to be profiled. As we say very clearly in the lawsuit, the Fourth Amendment has been the Fourth Amendment for hundreds of years and will continue to be unless the new administration tries to change it. Until then, people still have protections from searches and seizures that don’t have a judicial warrant or probable cause—and that’s what ICE detainers are.”