The Toughest Sheriff in America defends Arizona’s immigration law

Joe Arpaio
Photo: Rick Scuteri/AP

I wouldn’t hold your breath, Joe.

I’m sitting at an oval-shaped table in some nondescript executive suite off St. Rose Parkway listening to Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio talk about how he’s the victim in all this, that he’s just doing his job and getting little appreciation in return.

It’s a bit hard to believe I’m hearing this from The Toughest Sheriff in America (he’d be quick to correct you with “The World!”). Arguably the most polarizing figure in the ongoing immigration debate, he’s a sheriff who’s been under investigation for everything from civil-rights violations to using his office to settle vendettas, a sheriff who’s followed everywhere by protestors, a sheriff whose state just passed an immigration law that many say is tantamount to fascism.

But here the 77-year-old authority figure sits, in town not because of anything to do with his state’s sudden notoriety, but because he’s the guest of First Friday, a monthly Republican mixer that decamps to Stoney’s for two-for-one drink specials. He’s just in town to get his wine on, apparently.

Oh, and to tell the media it’s hard out here for a sheriff. He talks about above-and-beyond training for deputies to ensure no racial profiling takes place in his parish; how his employees represent 35 countries, and that they all have green cards; how he’s got “great relations” with the Mexican people, going back to his days with the DEA in that country.

He flatly denied his decision to not run for governor was in any way motivated by an investigation into his office by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Integrity. He also does his best to disarm the press, indicating his son-in-law, Phil Boas, is the editorial page editor at the Arizona Republic, which routinely slams him, and that his cell phone’s ring tone is “My Way.”

Asking for papers? Nonsense, he says, explaining documentation is only checked in the course of normal investigations. (No real discussion as to what constitutes “normal”). Thanks to that damn media, Arpaio says there’s now a lot of “panic, hype and misinformation” about it. Immigration reform? Arpaio said he’s vehemently opposed to amnesty, adding, “Let’s give the new law a chance.”

Finally, he said he wished he had run for governor, as that would have set up a presidential run. Yeah, he really said that. As for Obama, Arpaio wonders why he’s never been invited to the White House “for wine or basketball. They don’t want my opinion, which is sad.”

Like I said, I wouldn’t hold your breath, Joe.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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