Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lawyers urged an appeals court to reverse a ruling that barred his deputies who are enforcing Arizona’s immigrant smuggling law from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally.
Attorneys for the sheriff told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that a lower-court’s Dec. 23 ruling that limited the sheriff’s immigration powers was deeply flawed. The sheriff’s lawyers appealed the ruling in mid-January and filed their first brief on Friday.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow had made the decision in a lawsuit by a handful of Latinos who alleged that Arpaio’s officers based some traffic stops on the race of Hispanics in vehicles, had no probable cause to pull them over and made the stops so they could inquire about their immigration status.
Arpaio has denied the racial profiling allegations, saying people pulled over in the patrols were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes and that it was only afterward that deputies found many of them were illegal immigrants.
During his immigration patrols known as “sweeps,” deputies flood an area of a city — in some cases, heavily Latino areas — over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008.
Separate from the lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department has accused Arpaio’s office of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish.
The sheriff’s office said it doesn’t discriminate against Latinos and is negotiating to resolve the allegations, but is prepared to go to court if the Justice Department files a lawsuit.
In the lawsuit alleging racial profiling, Arpaio’s lawyers said the judge erred in ruling that reasonable suspicion is required on all elements of the state’s smuggling law to justify a brief detention and by failing to look at the totality of circumstances to determine whether an officer had suspicion to make the stop.
“Finally, the appealed order improperly concludes, in its practical effect, that MCSO cannot enforce certain Arizona laws, even though no court of competent jurisdiction has held such laws unconstitutional,” Arpaio’s lawyers wrote.
Dan Pochoda, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, one of the group’s representing people who filed the lawsuit, said the judge never ruled that deputies must have reasonable suspicion of all elements of the immigrant smuggling law.
Pochoda also said the judge’s ruling didn’t effectively prevent Arpaio’s deputies from enforcing the smuggling law. Since the ruling, Arpaio’s office has made arrests under the smuggling law.
“The key arguments, apparently, from the people who wrote the briefs are based on things that didn’t happen, based on mischaracterizations of what the judge did,” Pochoda said.
The lawyers pushing the lawsuit face a March 9 deadline for filing their first brief responding to Arpaio’s appeal.