20 minutes from the Monster Ball (Lady Gaga’s concert held in Arizona July 31), the iconic pop star put down her hairbrush backstage and listened curiously to two unexpected political activists. They urged her to stop the show and to join Rage Against the Machine’s Sound Strike of Arizona. The pop-star said that she was not aware of the immigration law, and the men explained in an emotional conversation its human rights violations. She asked that they scribble SB1070 on her arm so she could remember. That moment led Gaga to blast on stage before a crowd of more than 20,000 fans and announce that she received calls from artists personally asking her to cancel the show, but she would not cancel, explaining,
“And I said, you really think that us [ expletive ] pop stars are going to collapse the economy of Arizona? We have to actively protest and the nature of the Monster Ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice. I will yell and I will scream louder, I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.”
As the movement against Arizona’s anti immigration law SB1070 goes stronger, and in light of Federal Judge Susan Bolton’s decision to place a temporary hold on the law, it seems like there is much to celebrate. But the real trigger to Arizona’s law stemmed from programs that continue to exist today that encourage tie ups between federal immigration and local law enforcement, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities that enforce immigration laws which deny fairness to many. The most egregious of enforcers – Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Even as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s lawyers went to court to overturn the judge’s ruling so they can fight back against what the Republican calls an “invasion” of illegal immigrants, many demonstrations continued across the country, including one outside the Sheriff’s building. Protestors beat on the metal door of the jail and chanted,
Sheriff Joe, we are here. We will not live in fear.
In partnership with federal immigration through a 287(g) agreement, Sheriff Arpaio is infamous for his “reign of terror” against immigrants in Arizona. On the day that Arizona’s law came into effect, Sheriff Arpaio launched a sweep, showing exactly why SB1070 is likely to lead to racial profiling and over zealous local enforcement. The Sheriff’s dragnet led to four arrests, but it wasn’t clear if any of them were undocumented immigrants.
Arpaio routinely carries out sweeps, some in Hispanic neighborhoods, to arrest illegal immigrants. The tactics have made him the undisputed poster boy for immigration enforcement through local police and an example of the dangers of racial profiling. The Justice Department even launched an investigation of his office nearly 17 months ago over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures.
But the 287(g) program is not the only one to blame. Secure Communities is a rapidly expanding program which identifies undocumented immigrants using fingerprints at the time of arrests, even if they are not convicted of anything. Under the program, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for any crime are run against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records to determine who is in the country without status and whether they’ve been arrested previously.
Many people fear the program will lead to unfair enforcement. Like Sunita Patel, an attorney who filed a lawsuit in New York against the federal government on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network who says since everyone arrested would be screened, the program could easily deport more people than Arizona’s immigration law. Moreover, because immigrants are screened at the point of arrest even before a conviction, the program could create an incentive for profiling and create a pipeline to deport more people. Other immigrant groups have also begun to speak up, stating in a letter that the initiative will make crime victims reluctant to cooperate with police “due to fear of being drawn into the immigration regime.”
San Francisco has shown resistance to the program with, Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for San Francisco’s Sheriff Michael Hennessey, saying that Hennessey thought Secure Communities cast too wide a net and worried that it would sweep up U.S. citizens and minor offenders, such as people who commit traffic infractions but miss their court hearings. Joining San Francisco, Washington, D.C.’s police also decided not to pursue the program because the City Council introduced a bill that would prohibit authorities from sharing arrest data with immigration authorities out of concern for immigrants’ civil rights.
After filing lawsuit, Patel flew in from New York to provide legal support for Thursday’s civil disobedience protest against SB 1070 outside Sherrif Arpaio’s building. In an unlikely switch, she became one of Arpaio’s arrestees that day.
The arrest of the Guild Legal Observers is just a continuation of Arpaio’s campaign of harassment, said Carol Sobel, co-chair of the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee. Apparently, Arpaio thinks that if he arrests the Legal Observers, no one will be there to witness his unlawful actions. We have been arrested, shot with projectiles, hit with batons and pepper-sprayed at protests from Washington, D.C. to Miami to Los Angeles and we are still here to document misconduct.
Legal observers serve as impartial witnesses who help ensure that law enforcement officials do not infringe upon the rights of demonstrators and activists who engage in civil disobedience. Roxana Orell, another legal observer, was standing behind the crowd and videotaping the arrest of Sunita Patel. Arpaio’s deputies spotted Orell and arrested her, as well. Brett Beeler, a UCLA law student standing five feet from Orell and Patel when they were grabbed, said he saw numerous individuals standing closer to the police. He believes that the deputies targeted Orell and Patel because they were wearing the green Legal Observer hats. The two NLG Legal Observers have been charged with obstruction of a highway and failure to obey a lawful order. Numerous other protesters have also been unjustly arrested.
The Obama administration can do more than just watch. It can reassert the importance of sensible national immigration policies by rethinking two troubling programs — Secure Communities and 287(g). Judge Bolton’s ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way. However, the expansion of 287g and Secure Communities will likely lead to more Arizonas. We must urge Obama to listen to the majority of people against harsh immigration enforcement.
Photo courtesy of PuenteAZ on www.flickr.com