Bad Idea Turns Even Worse
All along, it was obvious that deputizing local cops to do the job of federal immigration agents would be a bad idea. It was clear that such a policy would make undocumented immigrants reluctant to report real crimes and would drive them further underground at a time when so many hypocritical politicians kept claiming they wanted to bring those people "out of the shadows."
But we never expected the so-called 287(g) local immigration enforcement program to become as dreadful as it has. We never thought it would be used as an excuse to justify racial profiling!
Yet that is exactly what this program has become, an excuse for Draconian crackdowns against undocumented immigrants that potentially can affect any American who looks, behaves or sounds like a foreigner.
You don't believe me? Go for a drive in Maricopa County, Arizona — just outside Phoenix. But for your own security, make sure you take your passport, birth certificate or green card! After all, that's where Sheriff Joe Arpaio claims his deputies have the talent to tell whether people are here illegally just by looking at them!
"It has to do with their conduct, what type of clothes they're wearing, their speech, if they admit it. They may have phony IDs. A lot of variables (are) involved," Arpaio told CNN's Rick Sanchez in a live TV interview last week.
Clearly amazed by the response, Sanchez pressed on. "You judge people and arrest them based on their speech and the clothes that they're wearing, sir?"
But the new poster boy of immigrant-bashers was not budging. In fact, Arpaio was on CNN to denounce the federal government's recent efforts to curtail his 287(g) powers. He was told that his department no longer has the authority to make immigration arrests in the field and that he must limit his immigration checks to the prisoners in his jails, but he vowed to continue staging his high-profile immigration sweeps in defiance of federal authorities. He said he will continue his personal crusade by using state laws to prosecute undocumented immigrants, just as he has in the past under federal laws.
Arpaio insisted that his extraordinary tactics are backed by federal law and by the training his officers received from the Department of Homeland Security.
It's true. By deputizing local cops to enforce federal immigration laws, our politicians created these monsters with expanded powers. Bigots with badges have become a public menace. And now the feds don't know exactly how to rein them in.
There are allegations that 287(g) is being used as an excuse for profiling by some of the 66 other local law enforcement agencies using this program throughout the country, but Arpaio is the only one who boasts about it.
In his jails and on the streets, Arpaio proudly claims to have identified 33,000 undocumented immigrants. Even though he is under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged human rights violations related to racial profiling under this program, Arpaio still boasts about how one single Arizona county has conducted 25 percent of the arrests made nationally under 287(g) (which also speaks to the fact that most law enforcement officials think the program is a bad idea).
That is why when the federal government finally told Arpaio to curtail his obsessive and abusive implementation of the program last week, the question became not why they did it, but what took them so long to stop him.
Based on mounting evidence that 287(g) leads to racial profiling and that some of its local enforcers are getting out of control, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and hundreds of immigration, civil rights and Hispanic activists have been calling on the Obama administration to "immediately terminate" the 287(g) program, which was implemented under the Bush administration.
President Obama knows 287(g) was always a bad idea. When he ran for president, he gave Latinos and other immigrants the impression that by voting for him, they were voting for real change on the issues of immigration. Yet his Department of Homeland Security — apparently politically influenced by the many Americans who support Arpaio's methods — appears to be trying to save the program, with modifications.
Even some of the Hispanic politicians who campaigned for Obama are beginning to challenge the president by telling him that his administration's policies are not consistent with his promises to reform immigration.
"We do not believe that allowing state and local police to racially profile and target our immigrant communities inspires confidence in our ability to enact (comprehensive immigration reform)," wrote Reps. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., in a letter from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to President Obama.
The letter also noted: "It is our experience that state and local law enforcement officials actually use their expanded and often unchecked powers under the program to target immigrants and persons of color. It is our opinion that no amount of reforms, no matter how well-intentioned, will change this disturbing reality."
I say touché!
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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