Hispanics living in Chandler fear Joe Arpaio’s immigration sweeps will be a repeat of the “Chandler Roundup,” the 1997 raid in which local and federal authorities arrested hundreds of people suspected of living in county illegally — including U.S. citizens.
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The sheriff has said he’ll conduct a sweep in Mesa next, but Chandler Hispanics are taking precautions to avoid being targeted by Arpaio’s deputies.
People are staying out of public areas as much as possible, said Jose Garcia, a 62-year-old retired Chandler business owner who witnessed the roundup in the downtown area more than a decade ago. When they do go out, Garcia said, they’re very careful about where they go.
“We know this isn’t about crime suppression,” Garcia said. “If it was, he wouldn’t be targeting Hispanic neighborhoods. You can’t suppress crime after a few days. You need to be there for a long time.”
Beginning last month, Arpaio ordered his deputies and posse members into Hispanic neighborhoods, where they have generally been citing drivers for minor traffic violations and arresting any suspected illegal immigrants they encounter.
The operations have angered civil rights groups, which have accused the sheriff of racial profiling. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has been outspoken in his criticism of Arpaio’s operations, and recently sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general asking that the FBI investigate Arpaio’s actions. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Monday the agency would not comment on Gordon’s letter.
In Chandler, the crackdown on illegal immigration is more sensitive because many remember the infamous “Chandler Roundup.” During a five-day period in the summer of 1997, Chandler police officers and federal agents swept through the downtown area, arresting and deporting more than 400 illegal immigrants.
In the process, a number of U.S. citizens and legal residents were also detained, according to a string of civil rights lawsuits that followed.
Since then, the city has created numerous programs aimed at easing tensions with the local Hispanic community. It also has used a lighter hand when dealing with immigration-related issues. For example, the council passed an ordinance banning drivers from parking on the side of the road downtown where day laborers have gathered for years, rather than moving the day laborers out of the area.
Some in Chandler think Arpaio’s actions risk destroying those gains. “The sheriff is a demagogue playing off the fears of others,” said Alberto Esparza, president of the Si Se Puede Foundation. “This city has made a lot of progress since then.”
It is not just Hispanics living in Chandler who question Arpaio. Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn is also wary of the sheriff’s actions, saying his city doesn’t need the sheriff patrolling its streets.
“I think our police department has done a good job here,” Dunn said. “And we’ve been dealing with this issue for a while.”
Dunn isn’t as outspoken as Gordon, who has called Arpaio’s sweeps “made-for-TV stunts.” But for the normally laid-back and conservative Dunn, it’s a forceful statement on the politically touchy subject.
Arpaio has not disclosed plans for a sweep in Chandler.
But a group of East Valley lawmakers sent the sheriff a letter asking him to come to the region. Among the signers was Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, who happens to be the law partner of Mayor Dunn. Yarbrough has said he understands residents’ concerns, but that federal immigration laws need to be enforced.
Dunn said that he was unaware that his longtime business partner was signing on in support of the sheriff coming to the area, and that he would have liked to have known before the letter was released to the press.
Should Arpaio decide to send his forces to Chandler, Dunn as well as other members of the City Council want advance notice.
“I think Arpaio should show some professional courtesy and let us know what’s going on,” said Councilman Bob Caccamo.
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