Remember the Birthers? Like me, you might have thought they disappeared into Donald Trump’s quaff the day President Obama’s team released his long-form birth certificate. Well, they’re back, led by America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio, known nationally for his anti-Latino shenanigans, this week unveiled the initial findings of his investigation into Obama’s birth certificate. “Based on all of the evidence presented and investigated, I cannot in good faith report to you that these documents are authentic,” Arpaio told reporters. “My investigators believe that the long-form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in paper format as claimed by the White House.”
Why, you might ask, is a local sheriff conducting this type of investigation in the first place? It’s a reasonable question.
For starters, unrest in Arizona makes the state vulnerable to such sensationalism. Last year the Arizona State Legislature passed HB 2177 which would have required presidential candidates to submit proof of U.S. birth in order to appear on the state’s ballot. The legislation was so ridiculous that Governor Jan Brewer vetoed it.
Then there’s Arpaio’s ego, too big to be contained within the confines of Maricopa County. Pink panties, Steven Seagal and regular spots on Fox News have elevated Arpaio from local warrior to national celebrity. Taking on the President of the United States thrusts him back into the spotlight.
Arpaio says his investigation is about appeasing concerned constituents, but he has all but admitted that the investigation is politically motivated. “I’ve had 250 Tea Party come to my office wanting me to investigate that birth certificate,” he told Univision’s Jorge Ramos this weekend. “I’m the elected sheriff. I decided to do it.”
If, for a moment, we can put aside the motivations for such an inquiry, we still run into practical questions of resource allotment. In 2008, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon criticized Arpaio for misplaced priorities and accused him of having “created a sanctuary county for felons,” citing 40,000 unserved outstanding warrants. “Rounding up those people should be a priority,” Gordon said. “Instead, he has created a sanctuary county for felons with his reckless priorities – that target brown skin and cracked tail lights instead of killers and drug dealers.”
Yet four years-later, here Arpaio is again dedicating attention to something outside of his jurisdiction. “I have my cold case posse, volunteered ex-cops, lawyers — no cost to the taxpayers — so we have been working on this,” Arpaio bragged. But even if these “volunteers” aren’t doing Arpaio’s dirty work on their tax-paid time, shouldn’t Arpaio himself be focused on real crime? Or is this Arpaio’s indirect admission that the Obama Administration has made the U.S.-Mexico border safer? How else would he even have the time to dabble in debunked conspiracy theories?
On immigration, no matter how much he overreaches, Arpaio manages to hide behind the veil of law enforcement. This “investigation” was meant to offer yet another layer of protection against his naysayers and his ongoing struggles with the Department of Justice. But by shifting his focus, Arpaio is lifting the curtain on his own operation, and rendering himself more vulnerable than he has ever been before. By questioning whether or not Barack Obama should be our president, Arpaio is expanding his proxy conversation about who does and doesn’t belong in this country well beyond immigrants and the Latino community. Now it is about all of us, from the most powerless to the most powerful.