Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez has warned that President Donald Trump's scheduled trip to Arizona could inflame racial tensions, especially if the president follows through on his potential pardon of controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County.
On Aug. 22, Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, to promote his immigration policies. The rally is expected to be surrounded with opposition, with thousands of protesters planning to demonstrate against the president for his controversial comments on a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, The New York Times reports.
There is also rampant speculation that Trump will publicly announce a pardon for Arpaio during the rally. On Aug. 14, the president disclosed to Fox News that he was considering a reprieve for the former sheriff.
"He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He's a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him."
The same day that Trump arrived in Arizona, Perez accused the president of alienating racial minorities in an op-ed, citing the president's comments on Charlottesville.
"Instead of bring people together, [Trump] emboldened white supremacists and created a false equivalence between those upholding racism and those fighting to defeat it," Perez wrote in an editorial for Univision.
On Aug. 15, Trump sparked controversy when he asserted that anti-racist counter protesters shared equal blame as white nationalists for the violence at a rally in Charlottesville.
"I do think there's blame on both sides ... you also had people that were very fine people on both sides," Trump said during a White House press conference, according to CNBC.
Perez accused Trump of stoking racial resentment and asserted that the president would only deepen the controversy if he were to pardon Arpaio.
"No Trump is throwing salt on the wounds he tore open, traveling to Arizona to promote his divisive agenda and potentially pardon one of our nation's most notorious symbols of racism and bigotry: former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio," Perez wrote.
Arpaio, 85, was elected the sheriff of Maricopa County in 1993. Over the years, the law enforcement chief became infamous for using controversial methods such as humiliating inmates, re-instituting chain gains, reducing prison meals and ordering his officers to prioritize apprehending undocumented immigrants over pursuing violent crimes committed by citizens, according to CNN.
In May 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Arpaio, accusing the sheriff of racially profiling and harassing Latino residents in Maricopa County. In November 2016, Arpaio lost his re-election bid, removing him from law enforcement. On July 31, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for disregarding a judicial order to stop detaining Latinos solely on the suspicion of their legal status. He could face up to six months in jail.
Perez, who had headed the DOJ's Civil Rights Division during former President Barack Obama's administration, led the investigation into Arpaio's alleged racial profiling. The DNC chair recalled that his probe found that Arpaio's office had ignored over 400 cases of reported sexual assault.
"Instead of catching criminals, Arpaio tore families apart and built what one of his own deputies called a 'wall of distrust between the police and the Latino community,'" Perez continued.
The DNC chair called on GOP lawmakers to denounce Trump for his controversial rhetoric and potential pardon of Arpaio.
"As Donald Trump tries to divide us, it's time for Republicans to reject their party's leader and work with Democrats to build a more inclusive future for all Americans -- from Phoenix to Charlottesville," Perez concluded.