In the midst of fear and anxiety over the election of Donald Trump, Latinos in Arizona found a silver lining: Sheriff Joe Arpaio lost his bid for a seventh term.
Now, Latino activists who organized to get Arpaio out of office are counting on the new sheriff in town, Paul Penzone, to make changes in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and improve relations with the Latino community.
"I think he has one incredible struggle in front of him," said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former Arizona senator and a longtime Latino activist. "When Paul walks in here, he's going to walk into a lion's den. It's going to be a tough if not impossible job. I hope he's up to it."
Though thousands of votes still need to be counted, the latest election results show Penzone leading with 56 percent of the vote to Arpaio's 44 percent. Among Latinos, Penzone was the clear favorite. A whopping 91 percent of Latino voters supported him and only 9 percent backed Arpaio, according to a Latino Decisions election-eve poll.
To start off, Latino activists want Penzone to close down Arpaio's infamous Tent City, where hundreds of inmates are confined outdoors. During the winter, temperatures at the facility fall below freezing, and in the summer they soar past 120 degrees.
Penzone said last month that there's no need to keep Tent City open and that he would be willing to close it if he got elected. On his campaign website, he expresses concerns about the safety of detention officers and inmates within the facility.
He also states on his campaign website that the federal court orders that resulted from the racial profiling case involving the Sheriff's Office "must be adhered to." Arpaio ignored court orders to stop racially profiling Latinos and, as a result, is facing criminal contempt of court charges. If found guilty, he could be fined or sentenced to prison.
Latino activists also want Penzone to remove Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from the Fourth Avenue Jail, which is operated by the Sheriff's Office.
Currently, a partnership with the federal government allows ICE agents to place an "immigration hold" on inmates in the Fourth Avenue Jail who are suspected of being undocumented so that ICE can take them into custody.
An analysis by Syracuse University found that the Fourth Avenue Jail, dubbed "Maricopa County Jail" in the analysis, had 28,682 inmates with immigration holds in 2013 — more than any other facility in the nation. About 73 percent of those inmates were not convicted of crimes.
A more recent analysis shows the number of inmates in the Fourth Avenue Jail with an immigration hold increased to 39,459 by the end of fiscal year 2015.
Latino activists say they haven't gotten a clear answer as to whether Penzone would remove ICE agents from the Fourth Avenue Jail. When asked about the issue, Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for the campaign, told New Times that Penzone is "meeting with the federal monitors to formulate his plans.
"This isn't a decision he can make in a vacuum," Pearson added. "The [Department of Justice] is overseeing any/all activity related to immigration enforcement by MCSO."
In a 2012 meeting with Latino activists, Penzone said his focus as sheriff would be on "drug traffickers, human smugglers, and the problem with human slavery" rather than deportations and raids.
"There's only so much money that can be spent to address deportations," Penzone said at the time. "I am not going to waste those dollars on people who are here pursuing citizenship or job opportunities and other things and not involved in criminal activities."
He added that as sheriff, he'd work to "build trust and confidence" within the Latino community.
Latino activists say they like what they've heard from Penzone so far. They just hope he keeps his campaign promises.
Carlos Garcia, director of Puente Arizona, said his message to Penzone is: "We're here for our communities, and we'll continue to organize. Whether you're Democrat or Republican, if you don't do what's right, we're taking you out."
Garcia's group was part of the Bazta Arpaio campaign that spent weeks knocking on doors, urging voters to cast their ballots against Arpaio. Members of the campaign included undocumented immigrants who were affected by Arpaio's immigration-enforcement policies.
On election day, the campaign offered to shuttle voters to the polls if they had no access to transportation. After the polls closed, campaign members gathered at Grant Park in Phoenix to await the results. They burst into cheers when they learned Arpaio had lost and then marched to his office a few blocks away.
Azucena Castro, a volunteer with the Bazta Arpaio campaign, said Arpaio's deputies had harassed and racially profiled members of her family, so seeing the sheriff lose was "an alleviating moment" for her.
She said she hopes Penzone will "make the changes our community needs."
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