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ICE Cuts Cooperation with Maricopa County over Racial Profiling and Discrimination

Mike Corradini, JD on December 19, 2011

To anyone who has worked in the immigration detention system, last week’s news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has uncovered evidence of systematic profiling and discrimination against Latinos in Maricopa County, Arizona comes as no surprise. While Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gained a reputation for aggressively targeting Maricopa County’s undocumented 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 skin speaking Spanish, and failure to investigate sex crimes committed against Latinos, including Latino children – are stunning.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has given Sheriff Arpaio 60 days to show that he will cooperate with them in correcting the deficiencies it identified before filing a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department. But the federal government, apparently unaware of Arpaio’s overtly discriminatory practices before last week, has already taken steps to limit its cooperation with Maricopa County. Shortly after the DOJ issued its findings, the Department of Homeland Security terminated its 287(g) agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Under the 287(g) program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) trains local law enforcement officers in identifying, processing, and detaining immigrants who may have violated federal immigration laws until ICE can take custody of them. ICE director John Morton later notified Arpaio that ICE would be withdrawing immigration detainees from MCSO facilities, restricting its access to the Secure Communities program, and ceasing ICE responses to MCSO traffic stops, civil infractions and other minor offenses.

While the government’s actions are good news for Latinos and other immigrants in Maricopa County, they hint at a much larger problem that pervades immigration enforcement. Latinos, whether they are here legally or not, are frequently targeted by local law enforcement for minor or pretextual offenses in order to funnel them into the immigration detention system. Programs like 287(g), which allows ICE to delegate much of its enforcement authority, empower local law enforcement to decide whether someone has violated federal immigration laws. And local law enforcement agencies benefit from increased immigration enforcement through the money they receive from ICE for detaining potential immigration offenders. In short, the federal government has created an immigration enforcement system that rewards local law enforcement agencies for racial profiling and discrimination.

While the MCSO’s behavior is particularly egregious, it is by no means uncommon in communities across the country with large immigrant populations. While PHR applauds the government’s actions in restricting its ties with Maricopa County, it must do more to ensure that its enforcement of immigration laws does not violate the basic civil and human rights of immigrants.

Places: United States