On Feb. 4, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County marched shackled immigrants in black-striped jail uniforms through the streets of Phoenix from the Durango Jail to a new Tent City he has erected to hold them, surrounded by an electric fence. The degrading spectacle was a blatant publicity stunt to promote Arpaio’s new Fox Reality Channel TV program. Meanwhile, Arizona’s ex-Gov. Janet Napolitano, the new Homeland Security secretary, has called for a review of immigration enforcement measures—including 287g, which allows local police to enforce federal civil immigration law. Maricopa County has entered into a 287g agreement with the federal government that gives Sheriff Arpaio broad powers to detain immigrants—whether or not they are accused of committing criminal offenses.
A Feb. 4 report on Arpaio’s publicity stunt in the Phoenix New Times notes:
Almost all of the men running the press gantlet were Hispanic. They wore striped uniforms, were chained to each other, and in some cases carried their belongings with them in paper or plastic sacks. Their garb read “UNSENTENCED,” a reminder that 70% of those in Joe’s jails have not been convicted of anything, and are simply awaiting trial.
Sheriff Arpaio is the target of more than 2,700 civil rights complaints and has a stack of 40,000 felony warrants backlogged on his desk because of his prioritization of immigrant-related stunts, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon complained in an opinion piece in the Arizona Republic Aug. 7, 2008.
Douglas Rivlin of the National Immigration Forum, writing on AlterNet Feb. 9, sees the Phoenix situation as indicative of a national dilemma for the administration of President Barack Obama. The New York Times reports Feb. 3 that enforcement priorities at Homeland Security have shifted to non-criminal immigrants over criminals and terrorism suspects. On Jan. 11, the NY Times reported that federal prosecutions for non-violent immigration offenses are crowding out federal prosecutions for felonies, including violent crimes and drug offenses. Rivlin calls these findings “a red flag for Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder that the priorities they inherited from the Bush administration are seriously out of whack.”
President Obama and congressional leaders need to recognize that until realistic immigration reform legislation is on track in Congress, the pressure to divert law enforcement and criminal justice resources away from criminals and toward non-criminal immigrants will continue.
The immigration-reform website America’s Voice and ACORN are calling for a federal investigation of Sheriff Arpaio’s practices. Click here to see ACORN’s letter asking House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers to investigate Arpaio for civil rights abuses and “bring this Sheriff to justice!”