For much of his tenure as Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio has cultivated a brazen, no-nonsense image in front of the media spotlight. But under his tough-guy exterior, Arpaio is human, and even cries, said Dan DeVivo, a filmmaker who followed the sheriff currently up for reelection around with a video camera for nearly four years.
DeVivo, the director of “Crossing Arizona,” a critically acclaimed documentary about Arizona’s borderlands, and Valeria Fernàndez, a Phoenix-based journalist specializing in immigration coverage, co-directed the documentary “Two Americans,” which profiles Arpaio alongside 9-year-old Karen Figueroa, who went to the media after the sheriff arrested her Mexican parents at their carwash job in 2009.
“If they have to hide, I have to hide,” Figueroa said in a clip of the film, currently on-screen in Scottsdale through Thursday. “Why would a mean person work as a police?”
While Figueroa is American, speaking out against Arpaio put her entire family at risk, DeVivo said.
“It’s taken a lot of courage for people to come forward and speak out against the sheriff,” he said.
From his time spent with the Sheriff, DeVivo developed the impression that Arpaio believes adamantly in enforcing the law, no matter what it entails, and that he does so because it gets him re-elected.
“He knows what his constituents respond to, and he acts on it.” DeVivo said. “I don’t know if the sheriff really believes in locking up the parents of a 9-year-old child.”
Originally from New York and having Italian grandparents, DeVivo said Arpaio reminded him of his grandfather who had “old fashioned views about people and society.”
Through “Two Americans,” he and Fernàndez set out to examine two competing American mindsets that made immigration a heated, bipartisan political issue.
Fernàndez emigrated to the U.S. from Uruguay and knows what if feels like having an expired visa, trying to become a citizen and seeing friends and family deported. She has been a U.S citizen, living in Phoenix, for 13 years and has closely watched Arizona attitudes transform with federal policy changes throughout the years.
“This is a time of turmoil and a time of change, and it’s fascinating to me what is going to come out of this,” Fernàndez said.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Arpaio started taking interest in immigration law, and it wasn’t until 2008 that his unique enforcement approach really took off, she said. When his methods landed him allegations that he violated civil rights, people became polarized in their moral standpoints.
The documentary gives voice to those who felt Arpaio abused his power as well as those who have supported him throughout his career, Fernàndez said.
“Standing for the rule of law is one thing and being a humanitarian is the other,” she said. “There are two Americas going on, but in reality they are one in the same.”
“Two Americans is playing at 11:15 a.m., 1:40 p.m., 4:30 p.m,, 7:30 p.m., and 10 p.m. through Nov. 1 at Harkins Theaters Shea 14, 7534 E. Shea Blvd., in Scottsdale. For more information, visit evtnow.com/4j1 or www.twoamericans.com/
• Michelle is a senior studying print and multimedia journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org