Feds give sheriff a tough choice on immigration enforcement
If sweeps not altered, jail help will be lost
The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
August 5, 2009
It was another sweep, with more arrests and complaints of racial profiling.
Valley residents are getting used to the fanfare and bitter debate that accompany Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 'crime suppression operations,' like the one in Chandler nearly two weeks ago. It has been 18 months since Arpaio launched the first raid in central Phoenix, but do they work?
Arpaio says 'yes': The operations clear warrants, nab illegal immigrants and reinforce the message that illegal immigrants aren't welcome in the county.
Critics say 'no': The sweeps don't result in enough arrests, they spark fear in immigrant communities and divert scarce resources.
In the 10 sweeps conducted since March 2008, deputies arrested 552 people, according to the Sheriff's Office. Fewer than half were in the country illegally. The legal residents detained were frequently picked up for offenses such as driving with suspended licenses or warrants.
The sweeps, in which drivers are stopped, can take weeks to plan, require dozens of law-enforcement personnel and can cost up to $40,000 for large-scale operations like last month's in Chandler.
By contrast, another program aimed at identifying illegal immigrants has caught more than 26,000 people as they were booked into jail. That operation, which is sanctioned by the federal government, uses federally trained officers already working in the jails.
It's those undocumented immigrants accused of committing crimes that the federal government now wants local law-enforcement to target. The Department of Homeland Security clarified its policy last month to reiterate that local agencies participating in the 287(g) program should only target 'criminal aliens,' those who have committed a crime other than illegal border crossing.
Arpaio has less than 90 days to weigh the two strategies as he considers his continued participation in the federal program.
If he accepts the new policy, he can still conduct sweeps, but his deputies will have to release illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes. If that policy had been in effect during the past 18 months, the Sheriff's Office would have had to release 150 of the sweeps detainees. If Arpaio doesn't agree to the terms, he won't be able to continue the identification program in the jails.
For Arpaio, the dilemma is real.
'The agreement is a package deal,' covering street-level deputies and detention officers, Arpaio said. 'I have to make a big decision. . . . I don't think they're going to change the policy just for me. If they were smart, because they do like the jail policy, they would say, 'Well, in Phoenix, Arizona, let the sheriff still turn these people over.' '
Every inmate who is booked into county jail receives some sort of immigration screening. When information provided by arresting officers or the inmates themselves indicate that the suspect is foreign-born, they're subject to more scrutiny. Sixty detention officers have received federal training to use an Immigration and Customs Enforcement computer system that quickly verifies immigration status.
Detention officers have screened more than 218,000 inmates since Arpaio signed the federal agreement in February 2008.
Once identified as illegal immigrants, those inmates are held without bond and handed over to immigration officials for deportation proceedings.
The 'agency's priority (is) to identify and remove criminals and other aliens who pose a risk to public safety,' said Matt Chandler, a Homeland Security spokesman.
The goals and effects of the 'crime suppression operations' are drastically different.
Arpaio has long claimed the success of the sweeps can't be measured in the number of people arrested and warrants cleared. He wants to encourage 'voluntary compliance' with immigration laws – to intimidate illegal immigrants into leaving.
'There's a matter of deterrence on the street level: instilling the probability that somebody might get arrested out there,' said Deputy Chief Brian Sands, who oversees the Human Smuggling Unit. 'We don't catch all violators of the law, but if we're not out there actively pursuing them, the violators soon realize that.'
The scope of the crime sweeps have varied since the first near 32nd Street and Thomas Road in March 2008.
A three-day sweep in Mesa last summer cost $38,387 and paid for 83 deputies and supervisors to arrest 59 people. A two-day operation in Fountain Hills in May 2008 used 13 deputies, cost $3,947 and resulted in 20 arrests.
The Sheriff's Office pays for the operations through its general fund, state funding and grants. Arpaio says these deputies would be working anyway; it's just a matter of when and where.
Deputies have worked nearly 200 hours in the 10 sweeps, issuing more than 1,100 citations and making more than 550 arrests. Critics, however, say those sheriff's employees and volunteers are put to better use going after 'real criminals' in a time when the agency has taken a $10 million cut in its operating budget.
Sheriff's officials say the focus on the operations' costs and resulting arrests misses the point.
'The crime suppressions (aren't) just for these illegals, it supplements our state laws,' Arpaio said. 'It's an overall fight against immigration. It all intertwines.'
Supervisors typically choose sweep sites based on criteria such as a rash of drophouse busts, identity-theft investigations or traffic complaints. The initial sweep in Phoenix came after a group of business owners complained about day laborers.
The operations can take weeks or days to organize, depending on their size, and deputies are given instructions to stop motorists for any violation.
The deputies look for key indicators such as foreign-born residents who don't have identification or don't speak English before calling in an immigration specialist. But they are given instruction that emphasizes the need to avoid racial profiling.
'Note: At no time will MCSO sworn personnel stop a vehicle based on the race of the subjects in the vehicle,' reads an operations plan.
Those warnings have not stopped accusations of racial profiling.
The sweeps have resulted in dozens of anecdotal claims that sheriff's deputies are profiling drivers, as well as a Department of Justice investigation and one class-action lawsuit with plaintiffs caught up in the operations.
An Arizona Republic analysis of arrest records from nine operations indicates that about 68 percent of those arrested appear to have Hispanic surnames.
Law-enforcement leaders point to another consequence from this type of publicized immigration enforcement: diminished trust in police within the immigrant community.
'They're victimized (by) people who are taking advantage of their status here and, therefore, they don't report crime. Crime is underreported among immigrants,' said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. 'Now they're even more frightened about being deported. . . . That's why police departments are reluctant to engage in immigration enforcement based on status.'
Sheriff's officials say the operations haven't harmed community relations in places such as Guadalupe, where a sweep last spring led to protests, a confrontation with then-Mayor Rebecca Jimenez and ultimately her ouster.
Many Guadalupe residents say the relationship between deputies and community members was always strained, and the sweep only exacerbated that distrust.
Engendering trust in the community isn't the aim of the operations.
It's hard to measure success when the goal is deterrence. A recent study from the Center for Immigration Studies indicates the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona could have dropped as much as 30 percent in the past two years. A variety of factors, including a deep recession and stepped-up enforcement at the border, also could have played a role.
Arpaio prefers to take credit for the trend.
'We think the word is out, (illegal immigrants) are leaving,' he said. 'There are just not that many here like there were a year ago, two years ago.'
Regardless of whether the sheriff signs a new agreement with ICE, Arpaio has an 'ace in the hole.'
He can continue conducting the sweeps and other immigration-enforcement efforts thanks to a series of state laws.
County Attorney Andrew Thomas interpreted the state's human-smuggling law to charge illegal immigrants as co-conspirators in their own smuggling, a Class 4 felony. Proposition 100 denies bond to illegal immigrants accused of a Class 4 felony or higher. A series of employer-sanctions claims give Arpaio's deputies a reason to review records of thousands of workers when they receive credible information about illegal hiring practices.
Deputies ultimately raid businesses armed with warrants for employees suspected of identity theft and forgery.
ICE can't stop Arpaio from doing any of that, but the agency will let him keep the successful jail operation, if the sheriff gives up his practice of arresting illegal border crossers who've committed no other crime.
'I know one decision: I'm not stopping,' Arpaio said. 'Nothing is going to change. They can keep trying to come after me. They can keep trying to restrict me with more policies.'
Arpaio to decide on federal immigration-enforcement policy
By Catherine Holland
AZFamily.com, August 5, 2009