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Is Sheriff Joe Arpaio using racial profiling to find illegal immigrants?

A federal judge in Arizona heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit in which Hispanic plaintiffs contend Sheriff Joe Arpaio is ignoring constitutional probable cause standards by targeting Latinos with traffic stops.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio shows his badge as he holds a ceremony where 90 of his deputies had to turn in federal badges that allowed them to carry out immigration work, including checking suspects' immigration status.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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In Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County, his critics say, the otherwise innocent tableau of Spanish speakers hanging out in front of a convenience store is probable cause for a police officer to approach and ask for identification.

So, apparently, is cruising down the street, according to a suit filed in federal court in Phoenix. The suit’s Hispanic plaintiffs contend that Sheriff Arpaio is ignoring constitutional probable cause standards by targeting Latinos with traffic stops, during which they are asked about their immigration status.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow heard arguments in the case, with the options of allowing the suit to go to trial, throwing the suit out, or declaring that Arpaio uses racial profiling in the enforcement of immigration laws. The judge is considering whether the acknowledged shredding of documents by the Sheriff’s Department would enable a judge or jury to infer that deputies targeted Latinos.

But the suit is just one of a growing mass of legal challenges confronting the maverick sheriff. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice cited Arpaio for racially profiling Latinos through the Sheriff Department’s frequent “sweeps” of Hispanic neighborhoods in suburban Phoenix.

The death this week of a Hispanic inmate at a Maricopa County jailhouse following a scuffle with Arpaio's deputies is adding to the sheriff's troubles.

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