A coalition of Illinois religious, labor- and immigrant-advocacy groups issued a statement Wednesday condemning this weekend’s Kendall County Republican Party Picnic’s chosen speaker, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. The self-proclaimed "Toughest Sheriff in America" has been the center of many civil rights violation investigations, including a current federal probe into alleged racial profiling tactics that began more than two years ago.
Accompanying the announcement was a letter addressed to Illinois Republican officials calling for them to withdraw their invitation to Arpaio or boycott the event based on his “long history of constitutional violations, corruption, and racial discrimination,” according to a blog post by Arise Chicago, one of the labor advocacy signatories.
"A lot of us in the immigrant rights community find it outrageous that members of the Republican party have invited the sheriff into Illinois, which is usually a safe place for civil discourse," Rev. CJ Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago, said in a statement. "It’s disappointing to see that someone who obviously does not see the image of God in each human being would be given such a venue to further put out his message of hate.”
The letter lists “Sheriff Arpaio’s most egregious attacks on the Constitution and human dignity,” including his controversial “pink underwear” campaign to use humiliation tactics against county inmates, the misappropriation of taxpayer funding to produce a quarter of the national deportations between 2007 and 2010 and a racial profiling suit he lost in July.
Ken Toftoy, chairman of the Kendall County Republican Central Committee and Kendall County coroner, told Montgomery Patch that he is "thrilled" to have Arpaio at the picnic, and that he supports the sheriff's tough immigration and incarceration policies.
"This guy is doing the right things," Toftoy told Patch. "Staying in jail shouldn't be like staying at the Conrad Hilton. And people who do cross the border illegally are breaking the law. They should be arrested. I don't think the sheriff is doing anything wrong. I absolutely believe in what he is doing."
Union leaders in the county aren't as thrilled. From Patch:
Count union leader Corey Johnson, business representative of Laborers Local 149 Aurora, as one of the Arpaio critics.
Johnson said the Republican committee has made a mistake in inviting Arpaio to talk during the picnic. The local laborers union boasts several Hispanic members. He said these members have asked Johnson and the union leadership to speak out against the choice of speaker whom these members say has long discriminated against Hispanic residents in Arizona.
"These members are the same ones who go to our churches. They are same ones whose kids go to our schools. They are the same ones who pay taxes in our community," Johnson said. "Yet the local Republicans bring in a guy who is truly offensive to them.
"This guy is like the supervillain of the Hispanic community. He is the Lex Luthor of the Hispanic nation. And still, the party brings him here to speak. I don't think that's a good move."
Toftoy told Patch that Arpaio is not racist toward anyone, but believes that those who enter the country illegally should be punished.
The People’s Church of Chicago, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and many labor unions signed the petition against Arpaio. It was addressed to state and national Republican representatives.
"It’s our hope that he doesn’t speak, and that the Republicans who have invited him to speak will rescind their invitation," Hawking said. "His entire message is foreigner hate, and race hating, and Illinois citizens are above this."