Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Getty/Robyn Beck)

Arizona's season in hell

Trump's pardoning of Joe Arpaio, the repeal of DACA and more have the state on edge

Vincent Peña
September 28, 2017 11:59AM (UTC)

This feature is part of Salon's Young Americans initiative, showcasing emerging journalists reporting from America's red states. Read more Young Americans stories.

Young American

Arizona is one hell of a place. The past few weeks have illustrated just how true that statement is, and it has nothing to do with the temperature. It may not have had the natural disasters that affected other states recently, but what Arizona has lacked in environmental or economic troubles, it has made up for in other ways.



This summer, Phoenix played host to a Donald Trump rally, which resulted in a minor clash between protestors and armed police after the president all but endorsed the white supremacist violence that occurred the week prior in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump also announced his desire to pardon one of the state’s most infamous figures, Joe Arpaio.

In August, President Donald Trump pardoned the former Maricopa County sheriff after hinting at it for months. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ignoring a federal government order to stop enforcing immigration and racial profiling, less than a year after he was unseated for sheriff after a tumultuous and controversial 25-year run at the helm. 


Salon published a piece earlier this summer about the work the new sheriff in Maricopa County, Paul Penzone, has to do in order to fix a sheriff’s office that was beleaguered by lawsuits, political turmoil and scandal, including the aforementioned court case and countless other lawsuits that have cost Arizona taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. 

His pardon is made worse by the fact that it was highly unlikely Arpaio would serve any jail time, so the erasure of his charges truly adds insult to injury, especially for the innumerable people who were unfairly — and at times illegally — targeted by Arpaio. There is no justice for those who were wrongly detained or were subject to racially biased policing, but there apparently is for Arpaio. For a man who often claimed nobody is above the law, Arpaio’s actions suggest he thinks he is.



In early September, Trump made good on another threat he had been making for some time, repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, or DACA. The move has grave implications for a state that shares a border with Mexico and is home to the nation's sixth largest Dreamers population, with over 50,000 recipients. 

Arpaio was charged and convicted with contempt of court because he refused to stop his unconstitutional round-ups of undocumented immigrants, and the court found his office was racially profiling people simply because they looked like they could be Latino or Hispanic. One need not squint too hard to see the correlation here and how the repeal of DACA can be all the more concerning in a state which has a long history of targeting and mistreating minorities and people of color.


When President Barack Obama signed DACA into effect, thousands of Dreamers in Arizona were granted protection from someone like Arpaio potentially rounding them up and shipping them off to a country that was not their home.

A sheriff’s office shouldn’t be involved in immigration enforcement. And while new sheriff Penzone has signaled he would avoid many of the methods used by his predecessor, ICE agents are still present at the county’s jails, showing how much work still needs to be done.

Dynamic duo


State Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain have both had interesting years. Both have been publicly criticized by the president, as well as their constituents. 

After Hurricane Harvey ripped through southeast Texas, causing catastrophic flooding and devastating one of the nation’s largest cities, the senate voted 80-17 Sept. 7 to raise the debt limit in order to keep the government running until December and provide $15.3 billion in disaster aid for Hurricane Harvey. But McCain and Flake voted to not help provide aid to hundreds of thousands of misplaced families and millions of others who must deal with the cleanup of one of the worst storms ever recorded. 

Yet, while Arizona has been in the news a lot lately — and not for the best reasons — there is hope, even from within the state.


Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has condemned the Arpaio pardon, as did many others, and many also criticized Trump’s decision and his remarks at the rally for being divisive and irresponsible, especially coming from the president. Stanton also condemned the DACA decision, calling it “cruel” while adding, “This decision aims to tear students, neighbors and friends away from their families, away from a country that they are making greater through their contributions, and away from the only home they know. Dreamers make Phoenix and our country stronger. Their fight is our fight. They are being used as political pawns by Donald Trump. That's just wrong."

Unfortunately, that doesn’t take the sting away from Arpaio’s pardon and his avoiding justice for his crimes. Nor does it reinstate DACA or stop Trump from making outlandish and incendiary statements. But at least Stanton is in the news for doing — or trying to do — his job well.

Vincent Peña

Born and raised in Phoenix, Vincent Peña attended Northern Arizona for undergrad and headed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for grad school. He's a huge journalism nerd who has mostly written about sports, but wanted to venture out and write about issues that are important to him and his community, especially in Arizona. There's more to Arizona than cacti, bad government decisions, 117-degree heat, and mediocre sports teams — like 80-degree winters and the best Mexican food north of the border. His main vices are books and coffee. Follow him on Twitter @vincent_pena7.

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