The news is in that Sheriff Arpaio’s agreement under the controversial 287(g) program will be renewed, albeit in a limited manner, allowing him to enforce federal immigration law in county jails and not on the street. Today we learned that the County Board of Supervisors approved the agreement after hearing emotional appeals from residents on both sides of the issue. Yet no final word has come in from the Department of Homeland Security which has remained strangely silent on the issue.
For those not familiar with the Arizona sheriff, he is currently under investigation by the Justice Department for racial profiling, a figure both reviled and hailed, with his policies having led to budgets shortfall and an increase in unsolved violent crimes. Yet, he insists he will continue his “immigrant crime sweeps“, with or without authority.
Government programs that arm state and local police with immigration powers have been on the rise for a while now. According to the New York Times, a report on immigration detention released Tuesday by the Obama administration shows that 60 percent of the 380,000 people detained during 2009 had been turned over to by state and local police.
But is this effective strategy? Not if we take the stated goal into account which is for the police to identify serious criminal offenders and turn them over to immigration authorities, because well over half the immigrants taken into custody under the programs have no criminal convictions.
Where are the numbers coming from then if they are not serious offenders? Reports and testimonies have been documenting the racial profiling that accompanies giving police immigration powers. One example comes from Irving, Texas, that shows traffic arrests and petty misdemeanors rose substantially for Hispanics once immigration enforcement became part of the jails. Even a Government Accountability Office has found an increase in the arrest of minor offenders instead of serious offenders that were the original target. And a government task force has recommended that these programs be scaled back.
So the tide seems to be turning slowly. A 521 organization sign-on letter opposing 287(g) has had a large impact, and recently, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus took a bold position asking for a termination to the 287(g) program. Two Massachusetts and Florida law enforcement agencies canceled their 287(g) agreements recently with one of them, Framingham Chief Steven Carl stating, “it doesn’t benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement”. And today, one more mayor from Houston has distanced himself from the program.
The Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association have all expressed concerns that these programs only serve to divert scarce resources and undermine public trust. It makes sense because we all will be less safe when communities are afraid to cooperate with police because they are afraid of immigration consequences.
And if these facts and figures aren’t enough, here are some compelling stories. Pedro Guzman, a Latino U.S. citizen was deported to Mexico because an employee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, a 287(g) participant determined that Mr. Guzman was a Mexican national. Cognitively impaired and living with his mother prior to being deported, he ended up being dumped in Mexico, forced to eat out of trash cans and bathe in rivers for several months. Luckily, his mother found him several months later. Or Juana Villegas, who was driving in Nashville (within Davidson County’s 287(g) jurisdiction) when she was pulled over by a Berry Hill police officer for “careless driving.” Nine months pregnant, Juana was held in county jail for six days, enduring labor with a sheriff’s officer standing guard in her hospital room, where one of her feet was cuffed to the bed most of the time.
These are not unusual examples but demonstrate policies that have gone wrong and are absolutely counterproductive to increasing public safety. But we still wait to see a complete cessation of these policies. Meanwhile, Sheriff Arpaio continues his rampage saying “I can do it without federal authority, and I’m going to continue to do it. It makes no difference.” Its a classic example of what can happen if we allow people to take the law into their own hands.
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