What does it take to get a former outspoken and unethical sheriff to stop violating court orders decrying racial profiling in policing? Apparently, a criminal conviction in the case of Joe Arpaio. Even though Arpaio is no stranger to the courtroom and has amassed more than his fair share of lawyer fees, he has been seemingly unstoppable in his tirade against Hispanic immigrants in Arizona until he was recently convicted of criminal contempt by a federal judge. Although Arpaio and his attorneys say that they will appeal the conviction, he is still set for sentencing in a few months and has nothing substantive in the way of a defense to offer.
Arpaio’s unfortunate time in the spotlight began more than a decade ago when he started spouting off hateful rhetoric targeted at undocumented immigrants and the Hispanic community. He called himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff” to publicize his stance on migrant rights and what he thought the role of local police departments should be in stopping illegal immigration. He said on multiple occasions that he thought it was permissible to use racial profiling as a way to identify people who were potentially in Arizona without the proper documentation. Arpaio went so far as to instruct his department to arrest or detain anyone they thought could be an undocumented immigrant and to alert federal authorities so that they could be taken out of the country. This was the policy of his department whether or not the suspect was believed to have done anything criminal.
Some advocacy groups started fighting back, and Arpaio was later served with a court order telling him that it was unlawful for his department to operate this way. He was expressly ordered to cease all racial profiling methods in detaining people within Arizona. Arpaio had no qualms about speaking to the press about his disagreement with the court order and stance that it stopped him from completing what he believed was his constitutional duty to root out undocumented immigrants from all corners of his county in Arizona. This attracted the attention of the court again, and Arpaio was eventually held in contempt of the court order because he continued to run his department like business as usual. At first, Arpaio was only found in civil contempt of the court order. However, his obvious willingness to keep up the unconstitutional practice of racial profiling in his department warranted criminal consequences, which are now landing Arpaio right back in the national media.
Given Arpaio’s blatant disrespect for the justice system and the office that he swore to uphold, it should not be shocking that he has a storied past of other dubious deeds. More than a decade ago, Arpaio’s office was being investigated by local media for the misappropriation of public funds and resources to directly attack some of Arpaio’s political opponents. As journalists began to get closer to hard evidence of Arpaio’s crimes, he ordered that they be rounded up for a grand jury investigation. He had subpoenas issued for some of their personal information, including their Internet activity and personal computers. The journalists tried to defy these illegal and unconstitutional court orders, and two of them were tossed in jail right away.
Arpaio did not get away with his plan to cover up his own crimes so easily. The imprisoned journalists were released from jail as soon as the story about what Arpaio’s officers had done came to light. He had absolutely no justification for his clear violation of their constitutional rights and no way to answer for his crimes. The county was forced to settle a civil lawsuit in favor of the aggrieved journalists for more than $3.7 million. While you might think that this snafu would be sufficient to keep Arpaio from openly violating constitutional rights of Arizona residents again, you would be sorely mistaken. Arpaio was more than willing to continue down this path whenever it suited him, which is why the journalists knew they needed to act quickly to make it as difficult as possible for Arpaio to pull something like that again while in office.
Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey were the journalists who experienced the evil of Arpaio first hand. They had been fighting for social justice causes throughout their career in journalism and publishing and were determined to mount a significant fight against Arpaio. They decided to use the funds that they received from the civil lawsuit to establish an organization dedicated to bolstering the fight for Hispanic and immigrant rights in the U.S. This is how the Frontera Fund came to be.
There are more than a dozen organizations that have received funding from the Frontera Fund. While others may have pocketed the settlement funds for their own benefit, Lacey and Larkin understood that there were much bigger stakes at risk for undocumented immigrants and members of the Hispanic community who are constantly targeted just because of their race and ethnicity. They could not stand to sit on the sidelines and enjoy their hard-fought victory against Arpaio as innocent people live in fear of being taken away from their families or not being able to earn a living to support them.
Lacey and Larkin have been so successful in their work with the Frontera Fund thanks to their background in media and publishing. The many awards they have received over the years for their skill and passion for telling the readers the truth about their elected officials and unconstitutional acts by government happening under our own noses were well-deserved and demonstrate that these two were in a great position to take a stand for justice.
Along with supporting migrant rights and the Hispanic community in their right to economic opportunity in this country, Larkin and Lacey are also proactive in their fight to uphold the free speech protections of the First Amendment for journalists. They think it is vital for the media to be able to report on the truth about civil rights issues and that the government should not be able to stop them.