Joe Arpaio has reigned as Sheriff of Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, since 1993, when Latinos made up less than a fifth of the state’s population. In this time, he has forced prisoners to wear pink underwear, don striped black-and-white jumpsuits, work chain gangs, and serve time beneath the desert sun in Army-surplus tents. He calls it his “concentration camp.” Most famously, he has dispatched his deputies to largely Latino neighborhoods where officers arrest people with the goal of checking their immigration status, then queue them up for deportation. It is for continuing these immigration sweeps against a federal judge’s injunction that Arpaio was officially charged Tuesday with misdemeanor contempt of court.
Arpaio has embraced controversy, and has repeatedly won re-election. After six terms in office, it seemed only age would defeat the 84 year old. But this election year appears different—not only because Arpaio faces a misdemeanor and up to six months in jail, but because polls give his Democratic rival, Paul Penzone, a comfortable lead. Arpaio’s last election was called his toughest yet, but this one may be his last.
This very real specter of Arpaio serving time is the culmination of a long battle in which the sheriff has offered himself as savior of law and order, waging war against Latino migrant hordes knocking on the Southern border wall, and as a lawman rallying against a conniving liberal federal government. “If anybody out there believes that this decision is anything but pure politics and politically motivated,” Arpaio’s campaign manager, Chad Willems, said of the federal charges, “they are living on a different planet."