National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Enforcement Without Oversight: Marching Immigrants Through the Public Square as Criminals Run Free

February 04, 2009

February 4, 2009



Washington, DC – On Wednesday, Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio plans to march shackled immigrants awaiting trial through the streets of Phoenix as a show of force and to promote his Fox Reality Channel television program.  Meanwhile, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, has called for a review of Homeland Security immigration enforcement measures, including a review of federal/local agreements, known as 287g, which allow local police to enforce federal civil immigration law.  Maricopa County has entered into a 287g agreement with the Federal Government that gives Sheriff Arpaio greater latitude to go after immigrants, whether or not they are accused of committing criminal offenses.  The following is a statement by Douglas Rivlin, Communication Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington. 


 


Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the gift that keeps on giving.  Just as the Department of Homeland Security announces a review of the program that has unleashed his police department on non-criminal immigrants, he pulls this stunt.  He is clearly showing the nation the consequences of placing too much power in the hands of local elected sheriffs with too little federal oversight.  Marching chained immigrants awaiting trial through the public square on their way to a tent city prison is a new low, even for Sheriff Arpaio.  But it is to be expected when a program like 287g is ramped up so quickly without any serious oversight by the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security.


 


Last week, Secretary Napolitano announced her intention to review Homeland Security practices including a review of enforcement practices.  We think it is particularly important that she investigate how 287g and other programs that enlist state and local law enforcement into the enforcement of non-criminal federal immigration law are being implemented.  Working with Attorney General Eric Holder, the Secretary should do a top to bottom review of how their agencies can ensure that the local sheriffs they empower through 287g are not abusing their mandate.  For Secretary Napolitano, who is well familiar with Sheriff Joe and his made-for-TV antics, this is the perfect opportunity to put the brakes on programs like 287g until safeguards are in place.


 


More broadly, Secretary Napolitano needs to fully review how enforcement resources are being deployed, and not just in her home state.  The New York Times reports today, that enforcement priorities at the Department of Homeland Security have shifted to non-criminal immigrants over criminals and others who may do us harm. If the Department of Homeland Security is failing to go after criminals because their resources are deployed chasing non-criminal immigrants, we have a big problem. 


 


Recent reports that federal prosecutions for non-violent immigration offenses are crowding out federal prosecutions for felonies, including violent crimes and drug offenses, is a red flag for Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder that priorities they inherited from the Bush Administration are seriously out of whack.


 


Furthermore, President Obama and Congressional Leaders need to recognize that until realistic immigration reform legislation is on-track and moving through Congress the pressure to divert law-enforcement and criminal justice resources away from criminals and towards non-criminal immigrants will continue.


 


Local elected officials like Sheriff Arpaio will continue to exploit widespread frustration with our current immigration system for their political and publicity goals.  The Maricopa Sheriff 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 immigrant-related stunts and it does not appear that our national government is doing enough to address this public safety crisis.  We join others calling for a federal investigation of this Sheriff and his conduct.


 

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