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Arpaio investigation draws mixed reviews

Some question politics behind timing of findings

When the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report condemning Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "discriminatory" policing policies last week, some immigrant rights groups lauded it as a move toward immigration enforcement reform. Others, though, are worried it was nothing more than a conveniently timed ploy to regain support from disillusioned Hispanic voters.

Some say the Department of Justice's release of details from a three-year investigation into alleged civil rights abuses by Arpaio is an admission that collaborations between local law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can lead to discrimination.

Others, though, questioned the timing of the report, which came as President Obama's support among Latinos is waning. Immigrant advocate groups that have been critical of the president's immigration policies, citing his administration’s record level of deportation, are asking why it took the government three years to condemn Arpaio.

“Them coming out now is somewhat timely and looks like a political move," said Carlos Garcia, an organizer with Puente Movement, a migrants rights group in Arizona.

The report alleges that Arpaio, who last month endorsed  Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president, used his office to engage in “unconstitutional policing.”           

“Specifically, we find that MCSO, through the actions of its deputies, supervisory staff, and command staff, engages in racial profiling of Latinos; unlawfully stops, detains, and arrests Latinos,” the report states.

The findings led Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to suspend Arpaio’s Secure Communities program and his office's 287g program, which allows officers to perform immigration functions provided they undergo specific training.

Secure Communities, which is used statewide in Texas, compares the fingerprints of people in police custody against a federal database to determine if the individuals are eligible for deportation under federal immigration laws. 

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The National Day Laborer Organizing Network said that if the move is purely meant to woo Latinos, it won't likely help the president win their support.

“President Obama needs to terminate the Secure Communities and 287g program if he wants to be serious about being a champion for immigrant rights,” said Sarahi Uribe, the network's national organizer.

But the Texas Democratic Party, which railed against proposed legislation to expand immigration powers to local police in Texas, defended the president.

“This is absolutely not about an election; it’s about doing what’s right. Sheriff Joe Arpaio was using his office to terrorize Latinos, and he needed to be stopped,” said party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. “Were it not for President Obama’s administration, several Republican-controlled states would be implementing cruel legislation that unconstitutionally targets immigrants.”

But other Democrats said Obama should stop trying to please immigration hardliners while trying to appear compassionate toward immigrants.

“He’s just caught in this bind, and they haven’t really taken a step to define themselves in one direction or another,” said Douglas Rivlin, the spokesman for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. 

Further investigations

The DOJ's findings, whether steeped in politics or not, have spurred new hope among critics of the immigration programs that the federal government will investigate similar allegations around the country. On Tuesday, the department released the findings of another study accusing the East Haven, Conn., police department of discriminating against Latinos.

That report exposes a national epidemic of civil rights violations, the day laborer organization said in a statement, and it must raise questions about federal immigration programs that rely on local police.  

The DOJ did not respond to inquiries about current investigations in Texas, although a former member of a government task force created to examine Secure Communities said there have been allegations of abuse here.

“There have been investigations in some of the Texas communities. Where, I couldn’t tell you because those are usually confidential,” said former Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas.

He was on a 19-person task force the Department of Homeland Security created in June in response to widespread criticism of Secure Communities and allegations that it was being used to deport nonviolent immigrants instead of the criminals.

Venegas resigned, though, after the task force released its first report. He said Secure Communities should have been terminated altogether and not simply modified.

Uribe called the DOJ’s finding proof that the Obama administration is divided over the programs. 

“So we feel like, in some ways, the truth is out with this Department of Justice report,” she said. “ICE is an accomplice to civil rights crisis in and outside of Maricopa County, and, if anything, I think it opens the door for renewed discussion on the Secure Communities program and calls to terminate it.” 

Asked to comment about allegations in the DOJ report against ICE and its local law enforcement programs, the DHS press office referred to an ICE website that says the program is undergoing significant changes.

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 4 »

Dec 27, 2011, 8:45 am
-0 +0

a great example of using race and ethnicity as a pawn for power and impunity is our very own DOJ headman, Eric Holder and or forces higher than Eric the Red. And this sets a very dangerous standard in this country when Administration heads use this sociopathic reasoning when criticized for good reason. If race color and ethnicity translate to being recused from criticism, we are all in a tangle of crap. Wait a minute, we already are.

Dec 22, 2011, 6:55 pm
-0 +0

we do not need to be ignorant of or insensitive to history, culture, and our fellow humans

Well, sure we do…

-History, irrelevant. I know many see the United States as nothing more than an occupation force oppressing the people of Aztlan, but that’s not the case. This is sovereign United States territory, and it will be for centuries.

-Culture, irrelevant. Our nation is a melting pot of different cultures, and the sixth amendment says our laws apply to them all

-Fellow Human beings, irrelevant. I hear so many people talk about the corrupt Mexican government, how horrible life is in Latin American, and on and on and on…All these things very well may be true, but it’s not our problem. The United States is our problem. We need to focus on taking care of our own and getting our own house in order before we start worrying about the indigents of the world. Think of it on a smaller scale…it’s all well and good to have sympathy for homeless people, but are you going to let 30 or more of them crash on your living room floor and eat your food, just because they’re suffering?

Dec 22, 2011, 6:26 pm
-0 +0

The first mention of color is in your comment Mr. Linden.  This is not about color.  It is about ethnicity, culture, and “Manifest Destiny.”

Latinos come in all “colors” and if they don’t trace their ancestry back to Spain, they trace them back to Native People and/or African Slaves.

To steal from Wiki:

“There have been people of Hispanic or Latino heritage in the territory of the present-day United States continuously since the 1565 founding of St. Augustine, Florida, by the Spanish, the longest among European American ethnic groups and second-longest of all U.S. ethnic groups, after Native Americans. Hispanics have also lived continuously in the Southwest since near the end of the 16th century, with settlements in New Mexico that began in 1598, and which were transferred to the area of El Paso, Texas, in 1680. Spanish settlement of New Mexico resumed in 1692, and new ones were established in Arizona and California in the 18th century. The Hispanic presence can even be said to date from half a century earlier than St. Augustine, if San Juan, Puerto Rico is considered to be the oldest Spanish settlement, and the oldest city, in the U.S.”

While Nordic people predated Columbus, they were not successful in establishing permanent settlements and Spain got here before the rest of non-Spanish speaking Europe did.

As you say, there are issues of immigration.  We need to secure and protect our borders, however, we do not need to be ignorant of or insensitive to history, culture, and our fellow humans.  Tutte le strade portano a Roma, but we don’t have to choose the bad ones.

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Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

An immigration protest at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Feb. 22.