Protesters for, against Ariz. sheriff speaking to GOP
NASHUA – More than 2,500 miles from the Mexican border, opponents and supporters of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who spoke Sunday at a Republican gathering in Nashua, didn’t need a fence to divide them. They found a six-lane roadway.
Stationed across from the Crowne Plaza hotel on Route 101A, nearly 70 demonstrators welcomed Arpaio, known as the nation’s toughest sheriff for his work to fight illegal immigration in Maricopa County, Ariz., with cries of “we will not live in fear” and “racist Joe has to go.” But with a cheering crowd of nearly 200 assembled inside the hotel convention hall, Arpaio did not return the protesters’ contempt.
“I love demonstrators. They follow me everywhere,” Arpaio told the crowd of more than 200 Republicans, who gathered for the Nashua Republican City Committee fundraiser two days before Tuesday’s primary elections.
“I’m not sure about this area, though,” he said with a broad grin. “We don’t have any (real) demonstrators here. These ones are nice. … I hope they’re bringing some lobster or something.”
More than 14 years as the Maricopa County sheriff, Arpaio has raised controversy over his treatment of inmates and pursuit of illegal immigrants along the Mexican border. He has forced inmates to wear pink underwear and sleep outside in a “Tent City Jail.” And last week, the federal government filed a lawsuit against Arpaio, accusing him of failing to submit documents relating to an investigation into whether he has violated civil rights law with his aggressive techniques to curb illegal immigration.
Among other measures, Arpaio has sent his deputies into neighborhoods known to house undocumented immigrants, stopping them for minor infractions such as jaywalking and requesting documents to prove they are in the country legally.
“They’re not undocumented. They’re illegal,” said Arpaio, who has overseen more than 2,000 arrests of illegal immigrants and more than 35 searches executed on businesses suspected of employee illegal workers. “Once you cross the border, you have violated a law. Period.”
But the demonstrators, who represented several New Hampshire and Massachusetts advocacy groups, questioned his accomplishments.
“Sheriff Arpaio’s immigrant rights abuses are well-documented. The people who invited him here should really know what a horrible man this is,” Concord resident Olivia Zink said Sunday as she stood across the hotel, waving a sign reading “Hatred doesn’t grow in granite.”
“He has a right to go where he wants, but we don’t agree with racial profiling,” echoed Mary Cronin, a Nashua resident and member of the Sisters of Mercy. “The heritage of this nation has been and will continue to be built on immigrants.”
Sharing a border with Canada, New Hampshire, which has hosted generations of French Canadian workers, has been shaped by immigrants, as well, both opponents and supporters of Arpaio agreed Sunday. But those immigrants that benefit the state and the country have done so legally, said local and state Republicans.
Most of the Republican candidates for state and federal office attended the event, including U.S. Senate candidates Kelly Ayotte, Jim Bender and Ovide Lamontagne, as well as congressional challengers Charlie Bass, Bob Giuda and Jennifer Horn, among others.
“We have nothing against legal immigration,” said Di Lothrop, communications director for the Nashua Republican committee, who arrived in the United States from England more than 40 years ago. “It’s the people who walk in (without documentation) and get a job. That’s an insult to me.”
New Hampshire hosts its share of illegal immigrants, both Arpaio and local Republicans said – “Once they get through the border, they come to places like (New Hampshire),” Arpaio said. But state residents, who are left to pay taxes to support education and medical care for children of illegal immigrants, among other charges, can do little to stem the tide, Republicans lamented.
Several years ago, police authorities in New Ipswich and Hudson attempted to combat the issue, charging illegal immigrants with criminal trespassing and working with state lawmakers on legislation to allow local police to be more involved with immigration enforcement. Their efforts stalled, however, when a district court judge ruled the trespassing charges unconstitutional in August 2005.
Former Hudson Police Chief Richard Gendron, among other local authorities, declined to comment for this story.
“Sheriff Arpaio’s definitely got the right idea. I wish we could be more involved,” said Wilmot Police Chief David White, who came to see Arpaio speak. “Crime would definitely go down across the country. But that would have to be done on the state or national level.”
With elections set for this fall, illegal immigration continues to be a hot-button issue across the country, said Arpaio, who is up for re-election in 2012. But President Barack Obama and other lawmakers have only stifled the conversation, critics said, leading some analysts and supporters to wonder if Arpaio is considering a run for president.
“Who knows,” Arpaio said when asked if his next trip to New Hampshire would fall during presidential primary season. “You never say never. But I like my job now. … We’ve got a lot of work left to do.”
Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or email@example.com.