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Latino Advocate: Arpaio Civil Trial Bigger Than Maricopa County

July 19, 2012

PHOENIX - Evidence of alleged racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will be presented in court for the first time starting today in a Phoenix federal courtroom.

The civil lawsuit accuses Sheriff Joe Arpaio of violating the civil rights of Latinos while enforcing immigration laws.

Border Action Network director Juanita Molina says Arpaio has become a national symbol in the immigration debate, mainly by oversimplifying the issue.

"He's created a whole kind of institutional structure around racial profiling. It's like the old spaghetti westerns where you've got people in the black hats and the white hats, and there's nothing in between."

The case began when a Mexican tourist with a valid visa was stopped by deputies outside a church in Cave Creek and detained for nine hours. Still to come is a more wide-ranging U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Arpaio's office.

Molina says the immigration sweeps that have characterized Arpaio's enforcement efforts are hurting the state's Latino citizens.

"It affects our everyday life. It affects our ability to be able to get up and leave our houses without being harassed. It affects our decisions: Do we go out jogging without our ID if you can get stopped anywhere at any time?"

The court case revolves around whether Arpaio's deputies are violating the constitutional rights of Latino citizens and depriving them of equal protection. Molina believes it's not possible to determine if a Latino person is undocumented just by looking at them.

"We're assuming things, that if they do not speak English or do not speak English fast enough or well enough. These are factors that we're using to determine, as a society, who is documented or undocumented."

The case is a class-action lawsuit that has been expanded to include every Latino driver stopped by the Sheriff's Office since 2007.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ