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07 February, 2009

Sheriff marches chained immigrants in US town

New America Media

Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio marched shackled immigrants 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 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 greater latitude to go after immigrants, whether or not they are accused of committing criminal offenses. Douglas Rivlin is communications director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the gift that keeps on giving. Just as the Department of Homeland Security announces a review of the program that unleashed his police department on non-criminal immigrants, he pulls this stunt. Marching chained immigrants awaiting trial through the public square on their way to a tent city prison is a new low, even for him. 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. Sheriff Arpaio is clearly showing the nation the consequences of placing too much power in the hands of local elected sheriffs with too little federal oversight.

Last week, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced her intention to review Homeland Security practices, including a review of enforcement practices. 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, she 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 familiar with Sheriff Arpaio 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 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.

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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