Arizona in 2010 is the new Alabama.
Equating anti-Mexican sentiment in Arizona today with segregationist sentiment in Alabama during 1960s-era civil rights struggles is becoming commonplace in the wake of recently adopted Arizona legislation authorizing police to crack down on illegal immigrants.
However, Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU in Arizona, saw this parallel long before the recent uproar over targeting Mexicans for intensified immigration enforcement in that Southwest border state.
Pochoda is one of the lawyers pressing a class action federal lawsuit charging the Sheriff’s Department in Maricopa County – the area that includes the state capital of Phoenix – with racial profiling of Mexicans during high-profile immigration sweeps through Latino communities.
“Defendants’ pattern and practice of racial profiling goes beyond these sweeps to include widespread, day-to-day targeting and mistreatment of persons who appear to be Latino,” states one document in that lawsuit filed in mid-2008.
Joe Arpaio, the controversial and colorful Maricopa County Sheriff – noted for making prisoners wear pink underwear and housing them under tents in searing desert sun – proudly defends using physical appearance alone as the trigger for immigration enforcement.
Initial plaintiffs in that federal lawsuit included persons who are lawful U.S. citizens but who were stopped, detained, interrogated or searched during Arpaio’s sweeps.
Those sweeps by Maricopa County deputies, over a dozen since early 2008, include the use of volunteer ‘posse’ members who are untrained yet carry guns, Pochoda said. Posse members range from elderly retirees to motorcyclists who portray themselves as “patriots” protecting America.