AP, July 15, 2006
Phoenix — Hundreds of immigrant-rights activists sparred with the sheriff of Arizona’s most populous county Friday, calling him heartless for arresting illegal immigrants under a state smuggling law.
More than 200 protesters marched through a small area of downtown Phoenix and stopped in front of the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for female chain gangs and forcing inmates to wear pink underwear.
“Sheriff, we are here to get on our knees and implore you to stop the hostility against the Hispanic community,” said Elias Bermudez, president of activist group Inmigrantes Sin Fronteras, or Immigrants Without Borders.
Bermudez knelt in front of the sheriff as he spoke, saying, “We believe that your enforcement of the law is an affront to the poor victims — the people who are coming here to work and serve this country.”
Bermudez told Arpaio if he wouldn’t work with the Hispanic community, Latinos will retaliate at the polls.
“We have come here, we have begged, we have gotten on our knees,” Bermudez said. “You have not worked with us. The only thing we can tell you is you cannot be our sheriff.
Neither the protests nor the dismissals will stop him from arresting more illegal immigrants, Arpaio said.
“I am going to enforce the law,” Arpaio told protesters Friday. “You cannot change my mind.”
The protesters also demonstrated in front of Thomas’s office, but he wasn’t there. Instead, he issued a statement through his public-relations representative.
“The protests today remind us that America is a generous nation — so generous that we allow illegal immigrants to protest publicly in our streets and to demand that our immigration laws not be enforced,” Thomas wrote.
“However, it is my duty, as the county’s chief prosecutor, to hold accountable those who violate Arizona’s criminal statutes.
After speaking with Arpaio, Bermudez and the other protesters marched in a circle, chanting “Libertad” and “Sí se puede,” Spanish for “Liberty” and “Yes, we can.”
Another man, Cliff Clifton, shouted at Arpaio, calling him a “Nazi thug” and a “scumbag piece of garbage,” to which Arpaio said, “Is that all you can say?”
But the sheriff did have a handful of supporters, including Barb Heller, a 49-year-old Phoenix resident.
“There are laws on the books,” said Heller, who held a sign that read, “Arpaio & Thomas: Doing the job Bush, McCain and Napolitano won’t.”