A three-year legal battle against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to force an end to workplace raids targeting undocumented immigrants has ended in a settlement that Unitarian Universalist Association President Susan Frederick-Gray, one of the plaintiffs, calls a partial victory and part of a larger strategy for immigrant justice.
In the January 2018 settlement of Puente Arizona v. Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, in Phoenix, Arizona, have agreed not to appeal previous rulings by a federal judge that the workplace raids and related practices were unconstitutional. The county agreed to pay the plaintiffs—including two women workers arrested in raids, the migrant justice organization Puente Arizona, and others—more than $995,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The plaintiffs were represented by a coalition of lawyers and law students, including the ACLU of Arizona.
“I was incredibly honored to be part of that lawsuit and show up in support of the two courageous women” who were arrested in raids and became plaintiffs, said Frederick-Gray, who was serving as minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Arizona, when the suit was filed. She was elected UUA president in June 2017. “They were incredibly brave, and I was proud to support their work and be an ally in their efforts to see the workplace raids stop.”
“Arpaio systematically terrorized workers and broke up families for years in Arizona. This ruling is a step in the right direction,” said the Rev. Andy Burnette, senior minister at Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Chandler, Arizona, who joined the suit with Frederick-Gray. “I pray it will be a deterrent to others who would seek to frighten and ultimately deport people out of xenophobia and bigotry.”
The lawsuit was part of a broad effort to oppose Arpaio’s tactics, Frederick-Gray said, including the successful effort to unseat him as sheriff in 2016. Arpaio is now running for U.S. Senate from Arizona on a platform that emphasizes his support of President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda.
“We did not win the full victory we wanted [in the lawsuit],” said Frederick-Gray, because the felony convictions against the two women workers were not expunged. “But it was another piece of a larger strategy.”
In 2007 and 2008, new legislation re-fashioned the state’s identity theft laws to brand undocumented immigrants as felons for working with a false name or identity. Relying on those laws, Arpaio, with the support of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, conducted over eighty workplace operations, leading to the arrest of at least 806 employees, according to the ACLU of Arizona. But after the plaintiffs filed suit, a federal judge found the raids and certain related law enforcement efforts unconstitutional.
In 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court for having defied a court order to stop targeting Latinos, including citizens and documented immigrants, during traffic stops and other law enforcement actions. President Trump pardoned him before Arpaio was sentenced.
While the settlement is encouraging, Burnette said, “Still, this is only a step. Love calls us to continue to fight back against the cruel culture of deportation still prominent in Arizona and around the country.”
Frederick-Gray agreed. While there have been encouraging victories in the fight for immigrant justice and to stop Arpaio from “terrorizing the undocumented community,” there is more work to be done. “The next phase of the campaign is to get ICE out of the jails,” she said, referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s current practice of interviewing people in jails to try to identify undocumented persons in order to detain and eventually deport them.
In the current political climate, “the people who continue to mobilize give me hope,” said Frederick-Gray. “Plenty of people thought we would never defeat Arpaio.”