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'Deport Them': Arpaio Departs From Trump On DACA Recipients

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks during a Donald Trump campaign rally on Aug. 31, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Ralph Freso
Getty Images
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks during a Donald Trump campaign rally on Aug. 31, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz.

Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff from Arizona, announced this week that he will run for the U.S. Senate to help advance President Trump's agenda.

But he is breaking from the president on the future of people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

"Deport them," Arpaio told NPR Morning Edition's Rachel Martin in an interview that aired Thursday morning.

"When we come across these kids, or some are older than just kids," Arpaio said, "then deport them. You deport them back to the country they came from."

Arpaio, 85, has devoted his career to cracking down on immigrants in the U.S. illegally and has used highly controversial tactics toward that goal — sometimes in defiance of federal court orders. He instructed his deputies, for example, to detain Latino residents and ask them about their legal status. He then ignored a federal judge's order to stop.

He was convicted of criminal contempt for that in July. But Trump pardoned him.

The immigration firebrand's entrance into the Arizona race could have far-reaching consequences for the party, as Arpaio's views will likely receive an outsize megaphone. It will likely mean that immigration — and conservative hard-line views on the subject — will dominate a Republican primary in a state that is now almost a third Latino and in a country where Hispanics are gaining increasing clout politically nationally.

DACA recipients as ambassadors, like the Peace Corps?

Under President Barack Obama, after the House did not pass the comprehensive immigration bill that garnered 68 votes in the Senate, immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children were allowed to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, executive order.

Trump rescinded DACA last year and is letting it expire by March. Trump's decision is now hung up in the courts, but he said this week that he wants a "bill of love" that allows the some 800,000 DACA recipients to stay. That, however, comes with conditions that Democrats don't appear ready to accept, including funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border.

Arpaio told NPR that DACA recipients should be sent back in this controversial way:

"They can do a lot of good in those countries. They have education here and help out and be good ambassadors from the United States to their country. That's just my idea."

He likened it to the Peace Corps and indicated he would be open to their returning later to the United States legally.

"Should we deport all the people in Chicago?"

But asked about the risks many could face going back to dangerous countries, places some of these DACA recipients have never been or where they don't speak the language, Arpaio pushed back.

"We have danger here, so should we deport all the people in Chicago with all the shooting and murder?" Arpaio asked. "If they want to get out and go to another country, should the other countries welcome them? I don't think they would."

He continued: "It's unfortunate there's problems in other countries, but that's ... you live in those other countries, you have to do something there whether it's through the political system in those countries to try to alleviate the problem.

"We pumped a lot of money into these foreign countries — tons of money to help their security, law enforcement, and that's OK, but you have to do it right."

"Make sure you get the right people to come into our country"

Asked whether he would close all of U.S. borders to migrants, Arpaio adamantly said no.

"Just make sure you get the right people to come into our country," he contended, noting that his parents came from Italy. "I have a personal interest in that situation."

Of course, when Arpaio's parents came from Italy, there were far fewer restrictions and immigration was most certainly not "merit-based." Italians at the turn of the century and into the mid-20th century, like people in other countries today, were escaping poverty, war and famine.

It wasn't the doctor from Milan heading to America.

A history of controversy

In the 1990s, Arpaio controversially also set up an outdoor Tent City jail in the blistering Arizona sun. It was criticized as inhumane by activists, and his successor said there was no evidence it made people less likely to commit crimes.

It began to be torn down last year and was closed in October.

Arpaio was also closely linked to the "Birther Movement," which peddled the falsehood that Obama was not born in the United States.

That's how Arpaio and Trump got to know each other.

How Arpaio's run could affect politics in Arizona and nationally

Because of his reputation, Arpaio would be a highly controversial figure running in the Republican primary. But his candidacy might cut a couple of different ways.

On the one hand, he will draw unwanted attention for the GOP nationally.

On the other, Arpaio could unwittingly help establishment Republicans' preferred candidate get the nomination. It's possible he could split the vote with another hard-line conservative, Kelli Ward, and opens an avenue for Rep. Martha McSally, who is expected to announce her candidacy Friday.

In fact, a poll paid for by a local TV stationin Arizona and out Wednesday showed exactly that — McSally with 31 percent, Arpaio at 29 and Ward with 25.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner, a senator from Colorado, declined Wednesday to explicitly rule out throwing the NRSC's support behind Arpaio if he wins the primary.

"It's too early to speculate who's going to win, who's not going to win," Gardner said on MSNBC, adding, "I think that is a conversation much further down the road."

Gardner was publicly critical and refused to support controversial Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual assault by multiple women, many of whom were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents. When it came to Arpaio, Gardner declined to take the same stance.

"It's difficult to compare what happened in Alabama to any other state," Gardner said. He seemed willing to let the primary play out instead: "Is he going to be the nominee? I can't tell that; you can't tell that; only the people of Arizona can tell that. That's why we have campaigns; that's why we have primaries and races. That's not my choice. That's not my decision to make at the senatorial committee."

Arpaio's candidacy all but guarantees that immigration will again be elevated in an election year, something that has not benefited Republicans in the past.

"Right now, that's what we need — is some leadership," Arpaio told NPR, "and get this problem solved."

It's the one issue that has galvanized and fired up the most ardent in the conservative base — and made Latinos reliable Democratic voters in the past few elections.

Immigration's potential dominance in this race could have broad potential consequences for the party in the age of Trump and as Arizona and the country continue to become more racially diverse.

This story was produced and edited for radio by Jeffrey Pierre and Arezou Rezvani.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Amita Kelly
Amita Kelly is a Washington editor, where she works across beats and platforms to edit election, politics and policy news and features stories.
Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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