Five things to know about Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Five things to know about Sheriff Joe Arpaio
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Retired Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) is back in the spotlight as President Trump considers pardoning him for a federal conviction.

Here are five things you need to know about Arpaio.

Trump has a long history of backing Arpaio


Trump and Arpaio have long held similar political positions. 

Both men took a hard stance on immigration and encouraged the Republican Party to follow suit, especially after the post-2012 election "autopsy report" that recommended that Republicans embrace comprehensive immigration reform.

Trump and Arpaio were among the nation's top proponents of "birtherism," the claim that President Obama was born overseas and is not a U.S. citizen.

As sheriff, Arpaio set up a "cold case posse" to pursue the claim in 2012, and was egged on by Trump.

"Congratulations to @RealSheriffJoe on his successful Cold Case Posse investigation which claims @BarackObama's 'birth certificate' is fake," tweeted Trump at the time.

During the 2016 campaign, Arpaio served as a warm-up act at Trump rallies and Trump returned the favor by campaigning on his behalf. But Arpaio lost his race anyway.

Now that he’s president, Trump is "seriously considering" a pardon for Arpaio, he told Fox News. 


Trump has scheduled a campaign-style rally in Arizona next Tuesday where he could officially announce the pardon.

"It makes me feel good that at least someone is backing me up. And how much better can you get than president of the United States?" Arpaio told NPR.

But Arizona officials are asking Trump to delay the rally, in the wake of the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left one dead.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the potential for violent confrontations between Trump supporters and counter-protesters in Phoenix is "a big concern."

Democrats are accusing Trump of looking to pardon Arpaio to appease his base after the firing of White House advisor Stephen Bannon.

"[Arpaio’s] already defeated, he's already disgraced, he's already convicted. What's the big deal? This is coming on the heels of Charlottesville," Grijalva said.

"He was convicted of discriminatory application of the law," he added.

"By pardoning him you're saying that's OK." 

Arpaio is facing real jail time

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court after U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said he had demonstrated "flagrant disregard" of a federal court order that directed him to stop his immigration round-ups.

"Instead of doing that he made an openly defiant public statement," said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF).

Arpaio could face up to six months in prison but hasn’t been sentenced. If he is sentenced to jail time, he would most likely spend that time in prison, rather than on house arrest or on probation, according to Saenz.

"Sentencing in federal court is real. In federal prison you really only get a maximum of 10 percent off your sentence," Saenz said. 

Arpaio can still appeal his conviction, but not until he's sentenced on Oct. 5. 

"It almost seems gratuitous to pardon at this point," Saenz said.

"It is a rarity for someone who's engaged in this kind of crime, contempt for rule of law, to be pardoned when he hasn't even pursued an appeal," he added.

He's a hero of the anti-immigration movement

Arpaio was first elected sheriff of Maricopa County in 1993 with a law-and-order mandate, and quickly became known as "America's toughest sheriff."

But it wasn't until 2005 that Arpaio inserted himself into the immigration debate by directing his office to arrest an Army veteran who illegally held at gunpoint a group of people he suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

"You don't go around pulling guns on people," Arpaio said at the time. "Being illegal is not a serious crime. You can't go to jail for being an illegal alien." 

After that incident, Arpaio steadily moved to the right on illegal immigration, ultimately making it his core issue.


"He got such pushback that he realized it was a good way to get more supporters and more votes and more money, so he did it," Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said. 

In 2005, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) signed an anti-smuggling law that levied tough sentences on human smugglers and undocumented immigrants who used their services.

Arpaio changed his tune on immigrants under the new law. 

“My message is clear: If you come here and I catch you, you’re going straight to jail,” he said. “We’re going to arrest any illegal who violates this new law, and I’m not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico. I’ll give them a free ride to my jail.”

That law, and SB1070 — an even stricter immigration enforcement law signed in 2010 by then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) — were eventually de-fanged by the Supreme Court, but Arpaio kept his tough-on-immigration stance.

The left despises him 

Immigration activists and civil rights activists writ large fought Arpaio every step of the way.


One of Arpaio's first acts as sheriff was to build what he called "Tent City," an outdoor prison meant to reduce overcrowding in county jails.

Activists on the left were enraged at conditions in the Arizona desert facility, where summer temperatures could reach 110 degrees. 

Arpaio compounded that anger with techniques like giving inmates pink underwear, presumably to prevent their theft by outgoing inmates.

He also bragged about Tent City, at one time calling it a "concentration camp." 

Sheriff Paul Penzone (D), who beat Arpaio in the November election, announced in April he would shut down Tent City.

Arpaio was a sheriff for 23 years 

Despite stiff opposition from the left and two failed recall elections, Arpaio easily held on to his position from 1993 to 2017.

But in 2016, Democrats successfully unseated Arpaio in a county where Trump beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit More than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020, setting record MORE by nearly 3percentage points. 

Democrats called Arpaio's defeat the "silver lining" of an otherwise disastrous 2016 election.

Despite support from Trump and a $12 million war chest — the 2016 Maricopa sheriff's election was among the most expensive local races in the country — Arpaio couldn't counter accusations of corruption and the impending criminal contempt charges.

"At the end of the day he got trounced out of office in a year that the county went for Trump. Trump voters didn't even go for this guy because that's how corrupt he was," Gallego said.