OPINION | Pardoning Arpaio would deliver a sharp blow to the justice system
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Joe Arpaio built a national reputation for his unconstitutional, anti-immigrant policing policies that he implemented during his time as the Sheriff of Maricopa County. His conviction in July for criminal contempt of court fit neatly into his nearly unmatched record of corruption, lawbreaking and abuse of power. If President Trump pardons him during his visit to Phoenix Tuesday, as he has strongly suggested he might, our justice system will suffer a crippling blow.

I represent many of the Americans Arpaio illegally targeted for decades with his immigration “crackdowns,” and feel the urgent need to point out that he is unqualified to receive clemency of any kind. Granting it would buy Trump a few positive headlines in friendly media outlets at the high cost of another long-term stain on the presidency, Trump’s own reputation and our status as a nation ruled by laws rather than men.


There is no question of Arpaio’s guilt in the case Trump is now considering, which centers on Arpaio’s failure to comply with a federal judge’s order to cease policing practices that racially-profiled Maricopa County’s Latino and immigrant populations. Before he lost re-election in 2016, he spent years openly spitting on such orders – a tactic that won him legions of enthusiastic fans and brought Republican candidates for high office (including Trump) to seek his endorsement.

Trump’s flirtation with wiping Arpaio’s dirty slate clean plays in part with his acceptance of white nationalist organizations and openly racist groups. Just last weekend, we witnessed Trump defend the actions of Neo-Nazi and Ku-Klux-Klan demonstrations in Charlottesville that left three people dead. There is little doubt that Trump’s visit to Phoenix, whatever may happen with Arpaio, will be as bitter and polarizing as usual. It takes minimal effort to outline his rally and purpose.

If the past serves as any guidance, the president can be expected to attack immigrants, blame Mexico for all of America’s problems and promote his increasingly nonsensical border proposals. My community and the rest of the country have few illusions at this point about what a Trump visit to a border state will look like.

Regardless of your views on immigration policy, there is no room for debate about whether or not Arpaio is worthy of a pardon. His crimes are not those for which presidential pardons were established. He is not a wrongfully convicted man, a prisoner of conscience or the victim of overly punitive sentencing laws. He’s a man who committed unlawful choices and now trembles at the thought of having to pay for them- the opposite of the hard-knuckled, no-nonsense sheriff he projected himself to be.

For years, the sheriff dismissed me and anyone else who challenged him as traitors to our country, even as federal investigators cited him for illegal racial profiling and abuses of power that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. He lost re-election last year because Maricopa County voters grew tired of his expensive theatrics and his failure to do his job. He is a spent force. Trump has nothing to gain and everything to lose by continuing to embrace him.

All along, Arpaio has acted with the liberty of being above the law. Nothing would prove him more right than a presidential pardon.

Grijalva represents Arizona's 3rd District. 

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.