POLITICS

With Sheriff Arpaio vulnerable, Latino group pushes to vote him out of office

Maricruz Ramirez, 50, from Hidalgo, Mexico, is no longer afraid to say she's undocumented. 

A vocal critic of Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Ramirez is one of a team of organizers with Bazta Arpaio, a Phoenix-based advocacy group that has been registering new voters and getting them out to vote with one aim: to unseat Sheriff Joe, who is running for a seventh term.

If recent polls are any indication, they may achieve that goal.

Arpaio, whose tough-on-crime approach has endeared him to many Arizonans – and made him a nemesis to the Hispanic community – is vulnerable for the first time in two decades.

In part, that's because the man once known as “America’s greatest sheriff” is facing criminal charges and a slew of lawsuits  stemming from is controversial workplace raids and patrols targeting undocumented immigrants.

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“Because of him, the American Dream turned into a nightmare at some point,” Ramirez told Fox News Latino at her home recently.

That week, Ramirez had signed up new volunteers to the campaign: a Mexican-American family of four with two teenage sons that went out knocking on doors in a modest Phoenix neighborhood. Ramirez' two daughters Rocío, 22, and Alina Sanchez, 24, both so-called "Dreamers" – young adults brought to the U.S. without documentation when they were kids – also joined in.

Guadalupe Ponce, 46, said her cousin had been detained by sheriff’s deputies in Maricopa County, then deported to Mexico. She urged her young daughter to register.

Bazta Arpaio (which incorporates the Spanish word for “enough,” basta and the state’s postal code of “AZ”) is hoping to turn that sort of indignation into votes on Nov. 8. 

“I remember how worried our family was when my father was late coming home from work one day.” said Leidy Robledo, 25, one of Bazta Arpaio's lead organizers. “He and my uncles are undocumented, working construction jobs. When my mother called, it turned out they were all hiding under the roof of a house they were building: Arpaio's deputies were patrolling the streets, chasing down illegal [immigrants]. That's what we ask people when we're out campaigning: 'Do you want to go back to 2010?'”

That year, the sheriff's department gained considerable power with the passing of SB 1070, then the strictest immigration law in the U.S. Among other provisions, the law allowed police to stop anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally and check their immigration papers. Although courts have dismantled much of the law's most onerous elements in the years since, when it passed SB 1070 set off a shock wave in Arizona's Latino community.

Federal prosecutors charged Arpaio with contempt of court for violating a 2011 judge's order for the department to stop targeting Latinos in traffic stops and workplace raids, saying it amounted to racial profiling, and the trial is scheduled to begin on Dec. 6. If convicted, Arpaio could face up to six months in prison. 

In the wake of the news, Arpaio dropped 10 points in the polls and has been lagging behind his Democratic challenger, Paul Penzone, ever since.

The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton can certainly smell the blood in the water. Clinton spent Wednesday campaigning in Phoenix, where she told a crowd that Penzone would “follow the law not his own ideological agenda.” 

She also took a swipe at Arpaio’s department for having “the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in American history.” 

Then she suggested that her Republican opponent, Donald Trump – who has praised Arpaio in the past – could nominate Arpaio as Homeland Security chief, a position in which he could theoretically oversee the mass deportations of undocumented migrants the candidate has made a cornerstone of his campaign.

No wonder Bazta Arpaio is intent on giving the sheriff the final push out of office.

“Last time, he won by a 80,000-vote margin,” Robledo said. "We've set a goal of knocking on 100,000 doors. We know where to get those votes, we just have to convince people they can make a difference and put an end to Arpaio.”

The campaign is targeting voters likely to back their cause: women, young people and Latinos, who make up 40 percent of the population in the Phoenix area. 

Perhaps more so than traditional political campaigns, Bazta Arpaio is driven by a number of activists whose families suffered because of Arpaio's anti-immigrant policies.

“Its not normal to live in constant fear,” field organizer Norma Jimenez, 24, told FNL. Jimenez is undocumented, as are her parents.

“I lived in Colorado for a while, and it was a real wake-up call to come back to Arizona: There are no constant patrols in Colorado, and people don't have to live in constant fear of making one tiny mistake, living in the shadows.”

“We've had enough,” said Ramirez. “We no longer want to live in fear, afraid to come out and participate in life, disengaged and unintegrated. Enough already, basta.”

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Arthur Debruyne is an independent journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @arthurdebruyne

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