‘No One Is Higher Than Me,’ Sheriff Arpaio Tells Inmate

BY Tom Bearden  April 24, 2012 at 6:14 PM EST

Over the years, the sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, has appeared on every major news network in the U.S. and more than a few in other countries. I first interviewed him nearly 20 years ago. He reliably talks tough about illegal immigration and actually acts tough with the people incarcerated in his jail. He’s world famous for making inmates wear pink underwear.

We interviewed Arpaio for our story on Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 — the controversial state law that, among other things, requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they encounter if they suspect that person is in the country illegally. A federal court suspended that and several other parts of SB-1070, and the law is now being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arpaio allowed us to interview inmates in the tent city where he houses people held on immigration charges. It’s somewhat unusual for law enforcement to allow cameras inside a jail, but Arpaio has long permitted media access.

We interviewed a number of the inmates through an interpreter. The men complained about being outdoors during Arizona’s hot days and cold nights, about the food, and about being detained in general. Several were quite knowledgeable about the controversy surrounding SB-1070, and most had been in the U.S. illegally for several years.

With the inmates looking on in the background, we later interviewed the sheriff himself in the same area. As we were packing up to leave, one young man approached Arpaio and started asking questions in Spanish. Guillermo Perez-Aguilar, 36, came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1996 and was arrested after he was not able to produce documentation proving he was in the country legally. Without hesitation, Arpaio engaged him in an impromptu debate, conducted via our interpreter.

We have posted an excerpt from that somewhat extraordinary conversation.

Watch Tom Bearden’s full immigration report on Tuesday’s NewsHour broadcast.