To anyone who has worked in the immigration detentionsystem, last week’s news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has uncovered evidence of systematic profiling and discrimination against Latinos in MaricopaCounty, Arizona comes as no surprise. While Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaiohas gained a reputation for aggressively targeting Maricopa County’sundocumented immigrant communities for arrest, the DOJ’s findings– including pervasive discrimination against non-English speaking inmates,raids in Latino communities based on complaints about people with dark skinspeaking Spanish, and failure to investigate sex crimes committed againstLatinos, including Latino children – are stunning.
The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has given Sheriff Arpaio 60days to show that he will cooperate with them in correcting the deficiencies itidentified before filing a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department. But thefederal government, apparently unaware of Arpaio’s overtly discriminatorypractices before last week, has already taken steps to limit its cooperationwith Maricopa County. Shortly after the DOJ issued its findings, the Departmentof Homeland Security terminated its 287(g) agreementwith the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Under the 287(g) program,Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) trains local law enforcement officersin identifying, processing, and detaining immigrants who may have violatedfederal immigration laws until ICE can take custody of them. ICE director JohnMorton later notified Arpaio that ICE would be withdrawing immigrationdetainees from MCSO facilities, restricting its access to the Secure Communities program,and ceasing ICE responses to MCSO traffic stops, civil infractions and otherminor offenses.
While the government’s actions are good news for Latinos andother immigrants in Maricopa County, they hint at a much larger problem thatpervades immigration enforcement. Latinos, whether they are here legally ornot, are frequently targeted by local law enforcement for minor or pretextualoffenses in order to funnel them into the immigration detention system.Programs like 287(g), which allows ICE to delegate much of its enforcementauthority, empower local law enforcement to decide whether someone has violatedfederal immigration laws. And local law enforcement agencies benefit fromincreased immigration enforcement through the money they receive from ICE fordetaining potential immigration offenders. In short, the federal government hascreated an immigration enforcement system that rewards local law enforcementagencies for racial profiling and discrimination.
While the MCSO’s behavior is particularly egregious, it isby no means uncommon in communities across the country with large immigrantpopulations. While PHR applauds the government’s actions in restricting itsties with Maricopa County, it must do more to ensure that its enforcement ofimmigration laws does not violate the basic civil and human rights ofimmigrants.