I spent some hours this week trying to prevent a deportation. I wasn’t successful. It happens, the law must be followed and sometimes the clock runs out. I get it, and I have mental calluses.
The immigration officer I dealt with in Philly was a truly decent man. He tried, while following the law, to be compassionate and dispassionate at the same time. He did his job, but showed immense respect to the poor fellow who is now a continent away.
There are very good, professional men and women on the front lines, doing triage in this morass of immigration confusion. We can disagree on policy, but we find common ground in faith and values that call us to be humane.
Joe Arpaio is the opposite of that. He is sadistic, mean-spirited, defiant, narrow and triumphalist. He does not represent the good men and women I’ve met in my 22 years doing this work.
That President Trump would pardon him makes me physically ill.
Spare me “but what about Marc Rich?” And “what about what Obama did?” Irrelevant to my anger. Joe Arpaio has been a vigilante for the two decades I’ve been practicing immigration law. He represents the worst aspects of the people who hate “illegals.” He shames the very, very decent folk who work for Tio Sam, people for whom I’d take a bullet because of their real patriotism.
Yes, I know that the president has the absolute constitutional right to pardon anyone he pleases. It is an authority that recalls the monarchical rights of yore, when the sovereign could, with a wave of his hand, keep someone from the executioner’s block. Donald Trump exceeded no written laws in giving this executive gift to his old friend.
But he violated invisible laws, obligations for decency and integrity that are engraved on the soul in the universal language of decency. To have chosen this man, who has a long and sordid history of treating those he considers “lesser” as the object of his grace and compassion, our president is showing incredible arrogance. Beyond that, he is signaling once again that he only cares about reaching out to the narrowest of demographics.
Anyone who has read me over the past two years knows that I am no fan of liberals, progressives, Democrats, antifa, and whatever else they are calling themselves these days. I have divorced them, almost completely and with little exception, and claimed custody of the brain in our breakup. They have spiraled out of control in their criticisms of the president, and some of them have actually turned into raving maniacs whose every other word is “impeach!”
I am embarrassed to have once shared a party with them.
But does that mean I have to swallow every act of this president with equanimity, turn a blind eye to his incredibly petulant view of the “other side?” No, clearly no. It almost seems as if Trump doesn’t have a specific plan of action, he only has a plan of reaction. If someone he perceives as an enemy (the judiciary in this case) harms someone he sees as an ally (Arpaio in this case), he chooses the most appropriate and effective weapon in his vast armory and levels it at the offending party. This weekend, that weapon was the pardon power. And he aimed it directly at the heads of the judges who finally held Arpaio accountable for his decades-long reign of terror.
Arpaio regularly arrested people based upon the color of their skin. This is not hyperbole, this is documented fact. He rounded up Arizonans who “looked” as if they might not be here legally, and in many cases they turned out to be lawful residents, even citizens. He has violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments on numerous occasions, and had no problem building his fame as a “tough guy” on the backs of your garden-variety “illegal,” someone who otherwise had no criminal record.
I know that these allegations only make his supporters cheer louder. He is John Wayne on steroids, except that John Wayne embodied the good guy trying to use his authority and strength to protect the powerless. Arpaio did the opposite.
On an evening when we should have all been focused on our brothers and sisters in the path of a storm, President Trump was focused on rescuing one person and one person alone, a man who is the ugly face of enforcement.
Thank God I know it’s not the only face. But this pardon is shameful.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.