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Mayor Challenges Popular Sheriff’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Tactics

From Forward Magazine

At first glance, Mayor Phil Gordon’s office in downtown Phoenix looks like that of any other mayor, replete with photos of his kids and a sweeping view of the city. In the case of Arizona’s capital, that means rolling desert hills. But in an otherwise sparsely decorated workspace, one detail stands out: a silver tray of Israeli shekels atop the coffee table.

Gordon is the first Jewish mayor of Phoenix, one of America’s fastest-growing cities. A popular leader serving his second term, Gordon has spoken out on behalf of Israel more than most local elected officials. He even penned an opinion article on the threat of Iran, in which he urged other local politicians to take a stand. But he also has taken a vocal position on an issue that is less of his choosing and more a product of his city’s circumstance: how to handle illegal immigration.

Gordon, 57, leads a city increasingly at the nexus of the debate over how to handle undocumented workers who pour across the border with Mexico. In recent months, that debate has intensified in Phoenix, as the Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has taken extreme measures to round up and deport illegal immigrants. Gordon, along with local Jewish groups, has made decrying the sheriff’s strong-armed tactics.

“The mayor is the only high-level politician in Arizona who stood up against the sheriff,” said Rabbi Maynard Bell, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “Suddenly the sheriff is no longer a sacred cow anymore, and I think it took the mayor’s courage to do that.”

The mayor, a former lawyer, holds that the sheriff’s actions are tantamount to racial profiling and represent a violation of civil rights. He first spoke out against the sheriff’s tactics in late March, at the seventh annual Cesar Chavez Day luncheon here. That same week, he sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking for a federal investigation into Arpaio’s tactics.

And Arpaio is a highly popular figure among the Arizona electorate. An Arizona State University poll conducted in late April showed a 59% approval rating for the Maricopa County sheriff. Gordon, on the other hand, had only a 42% approval rating.

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