US authorities filed a lawsuit Thursday against an Arizona lawman known as the "toughest sheriff in America," claiming his hardline stance on immigrants is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The US Department of Justice took the action in federal court against Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio, alleging "unconstitutional and unlawful actions by the defendants."
Based on a probe launched in 2008, they claim Arpaio used "discriminatory" action against Latinos who are "frequently stopped, detained and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin" in the southwestern US state.
Arpaio and his officers have "intentionally and systematically discriminated against Latinos," it said, noting that Latinos were stopped in their vehicles four to nine times as often as non-Latino drivers.
"At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff's office that disregarded the constitution, ignored sound police practices, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways," said assistant attorney general Thomas E. Perez.
"Constitutional policing and effective policing go hand in hand. The complaint outlines how Sheriff Arpaio's actions were neither constitutional nor effective," he said.
He added: "No one in Maricopa County is above the law and the department will fight to ensure that the promise of the constitution is realized by everyone in Maricopa County."
The US Supreme Court has been asked to rule on a controversial 2010 Arizona immigration law, known as SB1070, which critics say encourages ethnic profiling.
The Arizona law has aroused intense controversy because of provisions that require police to stop and demand proof of citizenship of anyone they suspect of being illegal, even without probable cause.
Last year, lower courts opted to strike sections of the law they said would place a burden on legal resident aliens in Arizona, where a third of the 6.6 million people are foreign-born and more than 400,000 are illegal immigrants.
But Arizona appealed, claiming that "the federal government has largely ignored Arizona's pleas for additional resources and help" in stemming the tide of illegal immigration into the state, which borders Mexico.
Source: AFP American Edition