5 Young Activists Working to Unseat Joe Arpaio, Arizona’s Infamous Anti-Immigrant Sheriff

Lead Photo: Photo by Darren Hauck/EPA
Photo by Darren Hauck/EPA
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Fifty days. That’s all that stands between today and what could mark the beginning of the end for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As the 84-year-old seeks re-election, Bazta Arpaio has brought together a group of young activists passionate about stopping him. For many of them, Arapaio’s 23-year run as sheriff has defined most of their lives. For way too long, they’ve heard about his inhumane tent city jail and his racial profiling of Latinos. Or worse, they’ve seen their loved ones on the receiving end of his policies.

Online, Bazta Arpaio is using memes and making lighthearted commentary to draw people into its cause. An image of Kanye West with his eyes closed and arms extended up above his head, for example, reads, “That Feel When Arpaio Is About to Lose.” IRL, the members are knocking on doors. They’re speaking to their peers on their school campuses. They’re registering people to vote. In less than a month, Bazta has hosted nearly a dozen events. And for weeks, Bazta protested Discount Tire. Owner Bruce Halle displayed signs in front of his store that read, “Re-Elect Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” As a result, Bazta picketed the store, according to BuzzFeed.

That means that even before Arpaio’s decisive primary win on August 30, Bazta started mobilizing the community. The Arpaio campaign doesn’t seem too worried – at least not outwardly. This month, campaign spokesman Chad Willems argued that the strong primary showing proved that Arpaio would win his sixth term. “I don’t think he’s limping into the general election,” Willems said, according to AZCentral. “I think he is sprinting into the general election with strong support from Republicans and independents. For all the hype the [opponent Paul] Penzone campaign seems to be putting behind their campaign, Democrats just didn’t bother to turn out and vote in this primary. For the sheriff to trounce Penzone in vote totals … I think is pretty telling going into this election.”

Polling has been insufficient, but a recent The Arizona Republic/ Morrison/ Cronkite News survey found that Arpaio’s popularity has dropped. 57 percent of Maricopa County respondents have unfavorable opinions of the sheriff. And that’s more in line with what Bazta Arpaio’s about 20 staffers are seeing on the ground. There are year’s worth of incidents to draw from when explaining how damaging Arpaio is to Maricopa County. There’s only one word activists need to say when talking about his possible future: Trump. Arpaio has heavily aligned with Donald Trump – someone who’s spend a year and a half insulting and instilling fear in immigrant communities. But with its “End Arpaio’s Rule, Prevent Trump’s Rise” slogan, Bazta is using this link to its advantage.

As Bazta’s website counts down the seconds until election day, the group works to show voters why he’s out of touch. We spoke to five members of the political organization to learn more about why they joined and why they think this is the year Arpaio will be unseated.


Ernesto López, 29

Ernesto’s fought Arpaio in one way or another since 2007 – around the time the sheriff starting ramping up his anti-immigrant, anti-Latino practices. Arpaio’d head to Pruitt’s furniture store and target day laborers. “[He’s] pretty much saying a lot of the same things that Donald Trump is saying about us, but he’s been saying it for like 15 years now.”

Ernesto’s seen the effects of Arpaio’s policies from pretty much every angle. He’s been inside the tent city jails. Police have stopped him for minor issues. He’s seen families torn apart. “It was one incident that I remember that they pulled over a family for no reason,” he said. “The person didn’t have documents, and then, they gave the little girl a toy to make her feel better about her parents being arrested and potentially getting deported for essentially having a broken taillight.”

Several times, Ernesto mentions how excited people feel to get Arpaio out. Toward the end of our conversation, he admits that he is, too.


Norma Jiménez, 24

Norma is fighting for her community. “My parents are undocumented,” she said. “I’m undocumented as well, but I have DACA. Because of my DACA, I don’t have that fear of deportation, like my parents do.”

With Bazta Arpaio, she believes they’re changing the way they organize and work within their own communities. As she explains, knocking on doors and direction actions aren’t new. But this, coupled with reaching out to people Arpaio’s action have directly affected can make a difference.


Elisa Ávalos, 18

For Elisa, joining the fight against Arpaio came because of his treatment of marginalized communities of color that may not have the power to vote. “I do not think that someone with so much power should have so much hate,” she said. “It’s not good for our communities and we should not be living in fear because he is in office, because he should be serving the community, not fighting against the community.”

And though getting Arpaio out of office is the end goal, Elisa explains that this movement is bigger than just this one man. The discriminatory SB1070 law inspired copycat legislation in other states. “If we take Arpaio out of office, it’s an example that other states and people don’t have to stand for things like that anymore,” she said.


José Sánchez, 17

Arpaio’s policies have torn high school senior José’s family apart. Officials deported his dad. So like many others, taking on Arpaio is personal. “He’s tried and succeeded for far too long to come up with hateful policies that negatively affect people of color,” he said. “And I think it’s time that we show him that there isn’t any room for these types of hateful policies in our state. He represents this Arizona that we just don’t stand by anymore.”

Mostly, José encourages others in Maricopa to do something about their anger over Arpaio. Whether that means voting or volunteering with an organization like Bazta Arpaio, José just hopes people find a way to make a difference.


Máxima Guerrero, 26

Bazta Arpaio

Máxima moved to Arizona at a very young age as an undocumented immigrant. Now, DACA protects her from deportation. But it’s not something that extends to her entire family. “I lived through the fear of my mom being detained and deported,” she said. Her cousins have also seen their families taken away – both out of the country and to the jails.

In 2012, she also worked on a campaign aimed at ending Arpaio’s reign. While it ultimately wasn’t successful, she also worked on a campaign against Russell Pearce. So she’s enthusiastic. She knows firsthand these efforts work.