When President Trump pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, the president probably knew this move would prove controversial. However, the backlash against Trump’s first pardon may reach heights no one could have predicted. The move was particularly disagreeable for immigrants’ rights activists like Lyda Guzman of Phoenix, Arizona. Ten years ago, Guzman was one of several dozen activists who used cameras and recording devices to document the immigration enforcement raids that Arpaio had ordered. In summer 2017, a court found that Arpaio had engaged in criminal contempt of court in relation to these raids. Specifically, Arpaio was found to have ignored a previous court order to stop racially profiling Hispanics.
Arpaio finally had a day of reckoning when he lost his re-election bid for sheriff in November 2016. Under Arpaio’s watch, Maricopa County became the first major U.S. county to officially partner with ICE in enforcing immigration law. In dramatic raids initiated at all hours of the day, officers would establish impenetrable perimeters around neighborhoods with large numbers of immigrants. Next, hundreds of officers would sweep through these areas, detain large numbers of people and check their citizenship status. Any time undocumented migrants were found, they were immediately turned over to ICE.
While some held that Arpaio was simply enforcing the law, others criticized these raids as heavy-handed, military-style operations. When Trump pardoned Arpaio on August 25, the president made clear his intention to continue prioritizing immigration law enforcement. During the same week, reports surfaced that Trump was considering cancelling a program called DACA. Initiated under President Obama, DACA is a program wherein certain undocumented migrants can register for protection from deportation. Since this program was created through an executive order, Trump can eliminate the program by simply issuing an order of his own.
Recently, the Trump administration pushed a plan to limit legal immigration and repeatedly threatened to censure cities that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities. By pushing forward with aggressive action in the area of immigration, most political experts agree that Trump is striving to placate the Republican base. It remains to be seen whether these actions will help or hurt the GOP with the independents that often decide elections. With the 2018 midterm elections coming up, the Republican leadership is keeping a close eye on the president. Despite what his more staid Republican colleagues hoped, Trump has not shown any desire to change his freewheeling, spontaneous style.