You’d think America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio, would’ve been in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona to attend yesterday’s U.S. Senate hearing on border violence.  Instead, while a panel of U.S. Senators lead by John McCain traveled to Arizona, Sheriff Arpaio was well on his way to appear on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, The Colbert Report, taped in New York City.

Arpaio is known for transforming Arizona’s Maricopa County Police Department into an immigration-enforcement agency, taking the pursuit of undocumented immigrants to “unconstitutional extremes” and gaining international notoriety and a Department of Justice investigation in the process.  Yet, if all his extreme tactics are in the name of protecting his community, why did Arpaio miss a hearing on one of the biggest threats to Maricopa County’s public safety hosted in his own town hall?  The truth is Arpaio’s appetite for publicity is so insatiable that it overrides any sense of duty, rationality, or morality.

With a crowd of picketers protesting outside his studios, Stephen Colbert decided to take it easy on Joe Arpaio — avoiding hardball questions about the budget deficit that his anti-immigrant crusade has created, or his failure to arrest top smugglers and criminals in the pursuit of immigrants that he accuses of “smuggling themselves” to the United States. Although Colbert spent a lot of time making fun of Arpaio’s gun-shaped tie clip, he did briefly mention the Pulitzer Prize awarded to reporters from Arizona’s East Valley Tribune for, according to the Pulitzer website, revealing “how a popular sheriff’s [Arpaio] focus on immigration enforcement endangered investigation of violent crime and other aspects of public safety.”  Colbert also asked Arpaio about his “crime-solving” techniques.

COLBERT:  Let’s put these accusations to bed that you racially profile…How do you determine that someone might be Hispanic without using your eyeballs?…How do you do it?  Do you have a secret sixth sense that you’re going to ask for one guy’s ID, and not another?

ARPAIO: …We don’t stop people on the street corner and lock them up because they look like they are from Mexico or any another country.  Pursuant to our duties-when we are doing a crime suppression or other operation-if we come across illegals, we have the training to pursue them.

What Arpaio doesn’t mention is that his tactics include large-scale neighborhood sweeps for minor violations as a means to arrest immigrants.  Arpaio has racked up more than 2,700 lawsuits filed against him and the U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil-rights investigation after months of complaints that Arpaio’s deputies are discriminating in their enforcement of federal immigration laws.  According to Henry Fernandez of the Center for American Progress:

Arpaio has diverted deputies from solving crimes to chasing immigrants — and done so with no real strategy other than to attract television cameras. Arpaio’s deputies carry out traffic stops and neighborhood sweeps that have reportedly stopped people for no greater “crime” than being brown. These sheriff deputies hope they find someone without identification who they can turn over to federal immigration officials. Arpaio even requires that victims and witnesses prove their immigration status – a sure way to get fewer whistleblowers to come forward, thus increasing crime.

It’s becoming clear that Arpaio’s over-the-top, media-grabbing immigration-enforcement methods are harmful to the people of Maricopa County as his tactics have wreaked a lot of havoc, and fought little crime. Maybe that explains why Arpaio was dodging Colbert’s soft ball questions last night instead of dealing with the real concerns of his community.

Protestors in front of Colbert’s studio.