Opponents of the pardon of Joe Arpaio gathered in downtown Phoenix at press conference on Friday night.EXPAND
Opponents of the pardon of Joe Arpaio gathered in downtown Phoenix at press conference on Friday night.
Joe Flaherty

Latino Reaction to Arpaio Pardon: Trump 'Just Throwing Finger' at Federal Judges

Petra Falcon actually screamed when she found out. The executive director of Promise Arizona, a Latino advocacy group, yelled to her coworkers that former sheriff Joe Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump on Friday evening.

"It's just unbelievable that the president can do that — just disregard community sentiment, community polling, the legal system," Falcon said.

She went through the stages of grief. Her shock wore down to anger.

"It's undiginifed for a president to take this action, and sets the bar for indecency," she said. "It's criminal. It's criminal what he's done to this state. I'm at a loss for words."

And then, sympathy.

"Those individuals that actually felt his crime, the victims of his crime, are the people who have totally been disregarded," she said more quietly.

The announcement unexpectedly came at 8 p.m. in Washington, D.C., leaving many flat-footed in their responses. Or, for Executive Director of Progress Now Arizona, Josselyn Berry, just plain angry.

"It’s 5 o'clock here in Arizona on Friday in the middle of a category 5 hurricane in Texas — I think it's the definition of a Friday news dump," Berry said in a statement.

Salvador Reza, an immigrants rights activist, was offended by what he considered a blatant disregard for the two federal court cases against Arpaio — in which he pleaded guilty to both.

"I think Trump basically just slapped the justice department and two federal judges, stepped all over the Constitution, and said that to him it’s more important for someone to be aligned with him than to obey the law," Reza said.

"He’s just throwing the finger at them, really, saying I’m the president and I can do what I want," he continued.

Many opponents of Arpaio gathered for a news conference at the federal courthouse on Washington Street.

"For a president that claims to be a rule of law president, he's done the opposite. He ignored what this court behind us has said and he pardoned a criminal," said Carlos Garcia, the director of Puente.

Garcia said Trump has tied himself to the legacy of racism, racial profiling, and white supremacy that the Latino and immigrant community in Maricopa County experienced.

"Behind me, you see a strong community that not only survived but thrived under the white supremacist rule of Sheriff Arpaio," he said. "And we will do the same under Donald Trump."

"Our local leadership, our local people, all our supposed allies — there is no more middle ground," said Viridiana Hernandez, the executive director of the Center for Neighborhood Leadership.

"Even though this hurts, we know this is where our country is and where our leadership is," she added.

Ray Maldonado, a local immigration attorney, said Arpaio should stay true to his word as a man of "law and order" and not accept the pardon.

"Now, it's time for him to pay the piper," Maldonado said.

Fat chance.

After the last speaker left the podium, the group chanted "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now?"

Many were wiping away tears.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn't have to worry about his sentencing date now.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn't have to worry about his sentencing date now.
Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Just a few hours before the pardon was announced by the White House, Arpaio's defense lawyer Mark Goldman wrote to the White House Counsel condemning them.

Goldman was citing a CBS article that said Trump had been advised not to pardon Arpaio because White House lawyers believed the criminal contempt charges were reversible and that a sentencing would be lenient.

In short, the White House was saying this would be a throwaway pardon because Arpaio could get a new trial or avoid jail time altogether.

Although this is what the defense team was hoping for, Goldman did not appreciate the assumption that his client would be let off scot-free. He said that if Arpaio was left to go through with the sentencing, it would put him in an "untenable and unprecedented position and sentencing."

Goldman scolded the White House for continual leaks, and made reference to the report that the White House Counsel Donald McGahn, to whom the letter was addressed, had called Arpaio last week asking if he would accept a pardon. It was Arpaio and the legal team's understanding that the papers were being drawn up.

Now we know they most certainly were.

Few Arizona politicians spoke out before the pardon — Congressman Andy Biggs tweeted in support, while Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton penned an op-ed in The Washington Post against it.

For many Arizonans, this deafening silence from across the aisle was an act of cowardice.

"This is what happens when the leader of our state doesn’t take a stand," Berry said. "Sheriff Joe Arpaio victimized hundreds of people and Doug Ducey said nothing when Trump said he was going to pardon him — and now he’s going to walk free after ruining people’s lives."

Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez stepped up to the plate to take a swing at Trump as well.

“Prejudice doesn’t deserve a pardon," Perez said. "Donald Trump just gave a free pass to his buddy Joe Arpaio, the nation’s most notorious agent of racism and bigotry, during a natural disaster that could hurt millions. That's not presidential, that's a coward."

For those who were profiled, detained, or separated from their families, this pardon will continue to sting.

"It's just unbelievable," Falcon said. "Only Donald Trump can behave in that way."

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