President Trump, Joe Arpaio is not above the law

2016: Sheriff Arpaio defends Trump policies
2016: Sheriff Arpaio defends Trump policies

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2016: Sheriff Arpaio defends Trump policies 05:41

Story highlights

  • Raul Reyes: President Trump is reportedly mulling pardoning former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, found guilty of criminal contempt
  • Reyes: Over years Arpaio engaged in violations of human and civil rights of immigrants -- legal and illegal -- in Arizona

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)One step forward, two steps back? On Monday, in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump denounced "criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans." In a press briefing from the White House, Trump said that "racism is evil."

A day later, he would walk back that walk-back, complain that both sides of the protest were to blame and seem to equate white supremacists with those who oppose them. Coining a new term, he called that opposition the "alt-left."
This not a terribly surprising turnabout, given the President's past statements. It helps explain the report on Fox News on Monday that Trump is considering pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, who tagged himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," was found guilty earlier this year of criminal contempt for defying a judge's order to stop his immigration patrol policies in Maricopa County, Arizona, which encompasses Phoenix.
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    Were Trump to pardon Arpaio, it would absolutely send the wrong message, particularly from a President who touts the value of law and order. It would represent a new level of racial tone-deafness from an administration already beleaguered over the issue of race. Arpaio repeatedly defied the law, and engaged in unconstitutional racial profiling of Latinos. He does not deserve a pardon, let alone the first one that Trump issues as President.
    Trump told Fox he is "seriously considering" a pardon for Arpaio because "he has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration." That latter point is debatable. What Arpaio has done, unquestionably, is engage in violations of human and civil rights. Before he was ousted from office in November by voters, he was known for housing his prisoners in outdoor tent cities in the sweltering Arizona heat. To humiliate them, he forced male inmates to wear pink underwear and female inmates to work in chain gangs.
    He ran a law enforcement office where it was common to refer to Latinos as "wetbacks," "stupid Mexicans," and worse. As far back as 2008, a federal judge found that conditions in his jails were so inhumane they violated the Constitution.
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    All the while, Arpaio was conducting immigration sweeps in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, ensnaring both legal and undocumented immigrants and US citizens. No less than the editorial board of the Arizona Republic recently noted, "All of Arizona was sullied by the racial profiling that went on when Arpaio was sheriff."
    And this is a person who Trump calls "an outstanding sheriff." In 2011, an investigation by the Department of Justice found pervasive bias against Latinos in his office. In Arpaio's jurisdiction, the Department of Justice found that Latino drivers were from four to nine times more likely to be stopped by law enforcement than non-Latinos. One-fifth of his office's immigration traffic stops violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
    The DOJ report found a "widespread pattern or practice of law enforcement and jail activities that discriminated against Latinos."
    It is deeply troubling that Trump would think of pardoning a man who has repeatedly violated court orders. In December 2011, a federal judge ordered him to stop detaining people solely on the basis of suspected undocumented status. Arpaio continued his practices anyway, for 18 months more. In May 2016, he was found to be in civil contempt, for disregarding the court's orders. Then in July, a federal judge found him in criminal contempt for continuing his patrols targeting immigrants.
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    In response, Arpaio said he didn't mean to violate the court orders, and blamed his former attorney for not making him aware of its provisions. Really? What part of "illegal" doesn't Arpaio understand?
    Given Trump's widely panned response to the events in Charlottesville, it would be politically foolish for him to pardon Arpaio. It would further cement the image of the President — whose approval rating has reached a new low of 34% -- as hostile to Latinos, and be another sign to white supremacists, racists and xenophobes that he is on their side. And there is this: Under DOJ regulations, a presidential pardon cannot be issued until five years after a criminal conviction.
    Our country has a complex illegal immigration problem that is not going to magically go away. Yet other than terrorizing immigrant communities and profiling Latinos, with his actions Arpaio did little to make his community any safer. In fact, while he was so busy conducting immigration sweeps, his office ignored sex crimes and allegedly mismanaged millions in taxpayer funds.
    Arpaio does not deserve a pardon, from Trump or any other president. No one, not even "Sheriff Joe," is above the law.