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By the time we get to Arizona

Arizona's an interesting place. It's got beautiful cacti, a big city (Phoenix) with absolutely no sense of history or place, a small city (Tucson) with a lot of character, and since it's perched on the Mexican border, it's a hotbed of immigration politics.

An editorial in today's Times takes a look at what can happen when these two things intersect, with a local sheriff making energetic efforts in the name of homeland security.

For months now, Sheriff Joe [Arpaio] has been sending squads of officers through Latino neighborhoods, pulling cars over for broken taillights or turn-signal violations, checking drivers’ and passengers’ papers and arresting illegal immigrants by the dozen.

Because he sends out press releases beforehand, the sweeps are accompanied by TV crews and protesters — deport-’em-all hard-liners facing off against immigrant advocates. Being Arizona, many of those shouting and jeering are also packing guns. Sheriff Joe, seemingly addicted to the buzz, has been filmed marching down the street shaking hands with adoring Minutemen.

If this doesn’t look to you like a carefully regulated, federally supervised effort to catch dangerous criminals, that’s because it isn’t. It is a series of stunts focused mostly on day laborers, as Sheriff Joe bulldozes his way toward re-election.

The sheriff says he is keeping the peace, but it seems as if he is doing just the opposite — a useless, reckless churning of fear and unrest. Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix has denounced him, saying the raids are interfering with undercover city police officers and federal agents. The mayor of Guadalupe implored him to leave her community alone. State and county officials have pointed out that Sheriff Joe has ignored tens of thousands of outstanding criminal warrants while chasing day laborers and headlines. They say he has grossly violated the terms of his 287(g) agreement — which calls for federal oversight of local police — and have called on Washington to rein him in.

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