One of the most dynamic groups on the ground this election season is Bazta Arpaio, a campaign mobilizing Arizona’s Latino and immigrant voters to oust the beleaguered Sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio — facing a boom of newly-registered and naturalized Latino voters, sinking favorability numbers, and federal criminal contempt charges — appears to be on his last leg after a reign of terror that has lasted over two decades in the county.
Berta Rita, born in Mexico, was 19 years old when she entered the United States without papers and settled in Phoenix. That was in 1992 — one year before Joe Arpaio was elected to his first term as sheriff of Maricopa County.
Twenty-four years later, Rita has lived in the U.S. longer than she did in Mexico, and for most of her time in the country, she has lived in fear of Arpaio, who built his reputation as the country’s most anti-immigrant sheriff with controversial policing tactics that included workplace immigration raids and traffic stops targeted at Latino drivers.
“Because of this we are always living in fear,” Rita, who does not speak English, told Yahoo News in Spanish. “Fear of walking down the street, of going to the school for our children.”
Her biggest fear is that one day she or her husband will be caught in a raid or a sweep and deported. “I’m not going to return to the house, and the kids are waiting,” she said, imagining that day.
Four of her five children were born in the U.S., and the fifth, “gracias a Dios,” married an American woman.
Now, as Arpaio runs for a seventh term, Rita is one of several undocumented immigrants working with the Bazta Arpaio campaign to put an end to the long-running reign of Arpaio, who bills himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
Whereas other community-based groups, such as One Arizona, have been focused on registering Latino voters, Bazta Arpaio’s mission is to get registered voters to the polls.
“We canvass neighborhoods and talk to [people] about Arpaio and all the ways he has impacted our community negatively,” Ernesto Lopez, a field director for Bazta (a play on “Enough” in Spanish) Arpaio, told Yahoo News.
For the past few weeks, Bazta has been focused on assisting early voters with every step of the process, from answering questions about how to fill out ballots and making sure they get dropped into the mailbox to sending reminders to those who pledge to send their ballots themselves.
“We try to reduce all barriers to voting,” Lopez said, adding that next week Bazta will shift its focus to getting voters to the polls on Election Day.
“At the doors we remind people that Arpaio is on his way out and their vote will make a difference,” Lopez said.
The goal is not necessarily to change anyone’s opinion but to rally those who might already be inclined to oppose Arpaio but either chose not to vote in 2012 or have only become eligible to do so in the four years since then.
Lopez said that “90 percent of the people we talk to dislike Arpaio,” so Bazta’s job is to motivate those people to translate that sentiment into votes.
Though 18-to-22-year-olds make up a majority of the first-time voters on Bazta Arpaio’s radar, Lopez noted that the group also includes people over the age of 45 who’ve recently become U.S. citizens. Of the 100,000-plus voters the campaign seeks to mobilize in Arizona’s most populous county — with more than 4 million people — more than 90 percent are Latino.
Earlier today, the group also released a new Selena-themed music video starring drag performer FreeDa Puta, herself also an undocumented immigrant, incorporating the legendary singer’s image and sound to urge voters to get rid of Arpaio once and for all.
“If we are becoming the majority we need to start addressing the issues facing some of the most vulnerable members in our community—addressing the needs of queer, trans and Latinx folks,” she said.