The pardon that Donald Trump granted Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, sends this message to American law enforcement: if you violate the civil rights of Latinos while enforcing immigration law, the president of the United States approves—and even if you’re one of the vanishingly few sheriffs or police chiefs that the Department of Justice charges with a crime, he’ll intervene to spare you.
The pardon is thus a slap in the face to Latinos, and ought to be an affront to all fair-minded Americans who value the Constitution, the rule of law, and the legitimacy of the system.
For American citizens who look Mexican, or Guatemalan, or El Salvadoran, or Columbian, the pardon creates new vulnerability to racial profiling and other violations of the 14th Amendment right to equal protection of the law. Should outrage over the matter fade, Republicans will keep pandering to anti-immigrant voters by abetting rights violations against Latinos, knowing they won’t pay an electoral price.
A backlash would not be without precedent. The whole trajectory of California politics changed after the passage of Proposition 187, a Republican-backed ballot initiative to deny state services to illegal immigrants that passed in 1994 with 59 percent of the vote, but turned the state’s fastest growing constituency, who took it as an insult, against the GOP for a generation (and counting). Will Trump’s political gamble fare better?