The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, sheriff and county attorney became the focus of a class-action lawsuit Tuesday for their interpretation of a state law aimed at cracking down on human smugglers.
Community groups, state representatives and professors allege in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that county officials are misusing the statute when they charge illegal immigrants with “conspiring to transport themselves” and violating the constitutional rights to due process and to bar unreasonable search and seizure.
The group also claimed the county’s enforcement policy is “a scheme to control international borders.” They blame Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio specifically for using the policy “to garner media attention” and “further their political fortunes” by criticizing federal authorities’ ability to control immigration.
Those who filed the lawsuit include: We Are America/Somos America Coalition of Arizona, the community organization Friendly House, state representatives Kyrsten Sinema, Steve Gallardo and David Lujan and Arizona State University sociology professors Cecilia Menjivar and LaDawn Haglund, as well as six Mexican citizens and several other organizations. They are represented by Phoenix attorneys Dan Ballecer, Antonio Bustamante, and H. Michael Clyde, along with Ray Velarde of LULAC in Texas, and Peter A. Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, based in California.
Arpaio said Tuesday night he had not yet seen the lawsuit. However, he said, “I’m going to continue enforcing the law and continue arresting illegals under this new law.”
The anti-smuggling statute went into effect this year. Since March, Arpaio said his officers have made 360 arrests and there have been 180 convictions, including two jury convictions, under the new law. He said these convictions signaled the courts’ and the people’s support for his and the county attorney’s enforcement.
“Dissatisfaction by certain groups is not going to stop me from enforcing this law,” Arpaio said.
County Attorney spokesman William FitzGerald had not yet seen the complaint Tuesday, but said the county attorney would respond to the lawsuit in court.
The six immigrants represented in the lawsuit were never previously charged with criminal offenses but were arrested, detained and charged under the county’s policy. Charges are pending for each. Two were deported, two remain in jail and two were released on bail, the complaint states.