By Joe Guzzardi
February 27, 2017
As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for. Last year, Maricopa County, Arizona, voters elected retired Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone to replace six-term incumbent Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In 2012, Arpaio barely edged out Penzone. The end to 24 years in office served by “America’s toughest sheriff,” as Arpaio liked to call himself in reference to his commitment to enforcing immigration laws, surprised few.
For most of his years in office, Arpaio had been controversial. Arpaio’s various legal battles, initiated by open borders advocates, have cost the county more than $142 million. Arpaio’s many opponents made sure he had plenty of heavy baggage weighing him down during his 2016 campaign. President Obama’s Justice Department, and the American Civil Liberties Union before it, filed racial profiling charges against him, and prevailed in court. The charges against Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office included claims of discriminatory traffic stops that led to unlawful arrests and criminal contempt alleging that he and his deputies violated earlier court orders to stop profiling.
An unbending enforcement proponent, Arpaio over the course of his long career has understandably become controversial. At age 84 and after 24 years as sheriff, the time had come for Arpaio, once Arizona’s most popular politician, to go. An election was held, and Penzone won, albeit assisted enormously with millions of dollars in donations from George Soros’ political action group.
But today, just a few months later, Maricopa County residents wonder if they might not have been safer with Arpaio still on the job. New sheriff Penzone calls illegal immigrants “guests,” and said that he looks forward to collaborating with the ACLU to developing a softer stance toward illegal immigration than Arpaio’s. Shortly after his election, Penzone told ABC News that he hopes to create a “caring community” for illegal immigrants once they’re inside Maricopa County, but contradictorily he added that public safety is his top priority.
Penzone’s actions, however, tell a different story, one that shows his disregard for county residents’ well-being. Based on Immigration and Customs Enforcement data and reported by Judicial Watch, during a recent 10-day period, Penzone released more than 400 criminal illegal immigrants from the Maricopa County jail. The illegal aliens have state misdemeanor and felony charges against them that include DUIs and drug violations.
After Penzone announced his new, lax policy during a mid-February press conference, ICE called it an “immediate, dangerous change” that puts dozens of criminals back on the street. ICE’s Phoenix director for enforcement and removal operations, Enrique Lucero, told local media that immigration detainers issued under Arpaio were a successful enforcement tool that reduced the possibility of future crimes against communities.
Post-election analysis showed that Maricopa County’s Latino voters helped put Penzone in office; 91 percent supported him over Arpaio. The Census Bureau estimates that Maricopa County is 30 percent Hispanic. But Penzone’s leniency toward his so-called guests puts everyone at risk regardless of their nationality. Releasing criminal aliens isn’t pro-immigrant or pro-Hispanic. Instead it’s a dangerous policy that unnecessarily endangers county residents. Moreover, Penzone’s defiant lawlessness has ensured that the Trump administration will identify Maricopa as a sanctuary county, subject to the loss of federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funds and Byrne Justice Assistance Grants.
Public safety is a sheriff’s top priority. After only a few weeks in office, Penzone has failed Maricopa County by willfully failing to carry out his most basic duty.
A Californians for Population Senior Writing Fellow, Joe’s email is [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.