On Wednesday, March 11th, leaders from Arizona and across the nation joined Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) at a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce community support for a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The DOJ informed Sheriff Arpaio that he will be investigated in a letter delivered to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office yesterday. Under a banner reading “Americans United to Defend Civil Rights,” the leaders presented over 38,000 petition signatures that have been gathered to date in support of the investigation. Signatures were gathered by many organizations including: Sojourners, MomsRising, ACORN, United Farm Workers and America’s Voice.
Rep. John Conyers, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary alongside Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties announced that the subcommittees on the Constitution, Crime and Immigration will hold a joint hearing into the civil rights violations of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They were joined by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
“We have been living under a reign of terror in Maricopa County. When we saw that the Justice Department is taking action we were elated,” said Mary Rose Wilcox, County Supervisor in Maricopa.
“The federal government is finally listening to racially profiled communities and taking steps to end a dark period in Arizona’s history,” said Salvador Reza of PUENTE, a community organization in Arizona.
Pablo Alvarado, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), echoed Reza’s remarks. “As with the enforcement of immigration law the defense of bedrock constitutional rights is the responsibility of the federal government,” he said. “We applaud the Department of Justice for initiating its investigation and we look forward to working with the new administration as it tackles the challenge of reforming immigration laws.”
Over 2,700 lawsuits have been filed against Arpaio, including repeated allegations of civil rights violations. Recently, Chairman Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee and three Judiciary Subcommittee Chairs sent a letter to the Justice Department calling for an investigation into allegations of misconduct by Arpaio. Last week, local organizations such as Puente and grass roots leaders with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network led a 5,000 person march in the streets of Phoenix calling for the Sheriff to be brought to justice.
Activists, religious leaders, and grassroots organizations are mobilizing nationally against the repression in Arizona by holding community teach-ins with the shocking footage of the separation of children from mothers and the humiliation of 200 detainees in chains and shackles forced to march in public. The situation has sparked a nationwide outcry and has become a tragic symbol of the wrong approach to immigration law enforcement.
“As people of faith, we have a responsibility to act in the face of injustice,” said Adam Taylor, Senior Political Director at Sojourners. “We stand in solidarity with the immigrant community in Maricopa County and call for an end to the immoral tactics of Sheriff Joe.”
“This announcement is wonderful news for the residents of Arizona,” said Alicia Russell, President of the Arizona chapter of ACORN. “For all who have been stopped, questioned, arrested or segregated based on the color of their skin, this is a significant victory.”
United Farm Workers Legislative Director Giev Kashkooli summed up the sentiment of the day: “Racial profiling and unequal justice have no place in America – that is why it is so important that the Administration and Congress are finally taking action.”