Controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, AZ, has told various local media outlets that he has signed a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and will continue participating in what is known as the 287(g) program. If this claim is true – Arpaio has a history of dissembling and exaggerating, and DHS has been notably silent on what is transpiring – it is a deeply disturbing development.
The 287(g) program was originally conceived as way for local police and federal immigration authorities to work together to apprehend those in the country without authorization who have committed serious crimes and are a danger to the community. But under the Bush 287(g) program, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Arpaio wannabes in other localities have been given a long leash to target ordinary immigrants living and working in the U.S. without immigration papers – people who may have violated federal, civil immigration laws, but are committing no crime. Such excesses have turned a number of local communities into areas where immigrants – both those here legally and those here without papers – are terrorized in an apparent quest to drive them out of the jurisdiction. They have created conflict with other policing agencies who are concerned about the impact on crime reporting when a portion of the community is afraid to work with the police.
In Arpaio’s case, his heavy-handed sweeps of Latino neighborhoods have led to widespread fear, deep divisions in the community, 3,500 lawsuits, a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation, and a nationwide reputation as the Bull Connor of our generation.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “If DHS continues its relationship with Joe Arpaio, it is making a historic mistake by lending the full force and legitimacy of the federal government to a rogue cop certain to go down in history as a serial violator of civil rights and an enemy of the Latino community. The Bush Administration recklessly expanded the 287(g) program, coddling those like Arpaio who exploited it to terrorize immigrant communities. The Obama Administration must change course, pull the plug on bullies like Arpaio who prioritize the arrest of immigrant workers over the arrest of real criminals, and take a stand for policing strategies that help all members of our communities work with local law enforcement to reduce and prevent crime.”
The lack of oversight and controls in the 287(g) program have led organizations such as the Police Foundation, and many law enforcement leaders participating in a Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) summit, to call for significant reform. The true purpose of local law enforcement is to protect the community and root out criminals. As implemented, the 287(g) program has missed its mark, and seriously undermined the ability of law enforcement to effectively do its main job of fighting crime and protecting the public. DHS has announced a series of reforms to the program, but many are concerned that they don’t go far enough. So deep is the concern regarding ongoing abuses and excesses in the 287(g) program that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus recently took the extraordinary step of writing to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to demand she move from mending 287(g) to ending it.
“Ultimately, the only way America is going to have effective enforcement of its immigration laws is to reform them so that the laws are enforceable,” said Sharry.“And the only way to forge an enforceable immigration system is for the Administration and Congress to enact a workable version of comprehensive immigration reform that combines smart enforcement – at the border and at the workplace — with admission lines that immigrants can get into, both in our nation and in sending countries. The sooner the President and his Administration move on his commitment to making immigration reform a reality, the sooner the country will have what it truly wants – an immigration system that embodies America’s commitment to being both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”