Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the poster-child for Arizona’s controversial immigration laws. Though some see him as a Dirty Harry-esque rogue cop who abides by his own rules, others think that he is unfairly portrayed – a media scapegoat who only upheld the existing law. One thing is for sure – the man has his supporters. Very vocal, very public supporters.
“All he does is enforce the law that’s already on the books,” says Walt Lyons, a retiree who attended a Saturday rally and chanted “go Joe, go Joe,” to show their support for the Sheriff.
Roughly 200 supporters gathered outside of Phoenix in Fountain Hills where Arpaio lives, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Though he is facing a federal investigation alleging racial profiling, he maintains that he performed his duty and upheld a law neglected by the federal government. “He’s kind of a sacrificial lamb,” adds Mr. Lyons’s wife, Regina. “It’s part of the process and he’s willing to put up with it.”
The rally supporting Arpaio occurred days after the Supreme Court took up SB 1070 for review. The bill has split Arizona citizens into an ideological civil war, advocates of SB 1070 on one hand (with Arpaio) and detractors who find it a violation of civil rights on the other. “It’s a very divisive issue,” says Bruce Merrill, a political scientist and pollster at Arizona State University in Tempe. “It’s really hurt Arizona.”
Though the nation’s attention is tuned to SB 1070 itself, the issue is actually much more complex according to Merrill. Though state polls show that 60% of Arizonans support SB 1070, roughly 75% also support the Dream Act, which protects children of illegal immigrants who graduate from college or serve in the military. Demographic support for the Dream Act doesn’t just pull in Latino and Democratic support either – Independent and Republican voters support the measure too, with seven out of 10 non-Hispanics favoring it.
“People make a distinction,” says Merrill. “Illegal immigration is a complex set of issues.”
Despite seemingly strong support and personal conviction, Arpaio’s detractors have quite a bit of lead on their side too. Randy Parraz, an Arpaio critic, has repeatedly called for the Sheriff’s resignation, which Arpaio has resisted. Arpaio will run for a sixth term as Sheriff, but “massive effort” to persuade Maricoparesidents to vote for an opponent will begin this summer, according to Parraz.
“We know he’s weak,” he opines of Arpaio.