We speak with Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a grassroots organization in Tucson that fights the militarization of the Southwestern border region and discrimination and human rights abuses by federal, state and local law enforcement officials affecting US and non-US citizens alike. She is also the legal defender of Pima County, Arizona, and won the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award in 2008 and the 2006 National Human Rights Award from Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play another clip of Sheriff Arpaio. This is the sheriff on Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report.
STEPHEN COLBERT: How would you answer these people who say you’re focusing too much on illegal immigration to the detriment of other — to other criminal cases?
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: No.
STEPHEN COLBERT: That’s what those guys won the Pulitzer for today.
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Really?
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes.
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: After me?
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes.
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Wow!
STEPHEN COLBERT: Reporting on your sheriff’s office —-
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Wow, that’s -—
STEPHEN COLBERT: — focusing on illegal immigration as opposed to other crimes.
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: No. We don’t do — we enforce all the laws of this nation, this — the county of Maricopa County. So that’s just a cop-out, Stephen, because they don’t want me to enforce the illegal immigration laws. That’s the bottom line.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Stephen Colbert interviewing Sheriff Arpaio. Isabel Garcia, longtime public defender here, your response?
ISABEL GARCIA: Well, it’s obvious that he enjoys the national attention. The Congress is, of course, conducting an investigation about his conduct in Maricopa County and whether he’s acting within the parameters of the 287(g).
Obviously, we think that Joe Arpaio is bent on waging a war on immigrants, that our government essentially permitted him this, that Arizona has become in fact the laboratory. And Joe Arpaio is heading up what we see as the direct consequence of these military kind of operations.
The University of Arizona along with other universities have received millions of dollars to conduct border security initiatives research into the kind of techniques that Joe Arpaio is utilizing, so —-
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what 287(g) is.
ISABEL GARCIA: 287(g) is part of the prior immigration law that permits local law enforcement to be trained and enforce federal immigration laws, in some contexts. And so -—
AMY GOODMAN: So the police become immigration officers.
ISABEL GARCIA: Absolutely. It is a very dangerous precedent.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s the problem?
ISABEL GARCIA: And the problem is that the local law enforcement agencies, along with society as a whole, are becoming Border Patrol agents. That is really at the crux of this debate, not only with 287(g), but with other pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the Congress, anywhere from STRIVE to the McCain-Kennedy to the Grand Bargain. All of them include pieces that are similar to the 287(g) and what Joe Arpaio is doing. We’re on a very dangerous trend here, urging all the society to become immigration agents. And with police power, of course, with that bias and intent on being a Border Patrol agent, whether at work, whether at a restaurant, everywhere in society that it’s pervading, the most dangerous, of course, is at the hand of law enforcement.
And with 287(g)s, with so-called training by the federal government, I think we’re really on a slippery slope, and agreeing that our resources be devoted rather to real security — real security means jobs, having food for one’s family, having housing for one’s family, education here in Arizona. We are being devastated that there is not money for education. However, we see Arizona exploding with the hiring of Border Patrol agents, the building of walls, the detention and operations streamline of seventy people a day, are criminalized every single day with intent to have it become zero tolerance. This is the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Justice opening an investigation, a civil rights investigation, into Sheriff Arpaio, what is the significance of this?
ISABEL GARCIA: Well, the significance is that there is national attention to this growing phenomenon of law enforcement becoming engaged in conducting federal immigration laws, not only through the 287(g)s, but through other mechanisms that exist here along the border in Arizona. For instance, there’s some cooperation. As well, there’s units. They’re multidisciplinary units, whereas now Border Patrol is invading all this space.
So, this investigation not only focuses in on Joe Arpaio, who happens to be a very hateful man, who has damaged many families and our relationships in Arizona, created a haven for those that are filled with hate and division. And so Arpaio may be the poster child for it, but we think that this debate and — this investigation, excuse me, into Joe Arpaio may open up the truth.
We’re hoping that they look at really the hypocritical notions that we have going on here, from encouraging immigrants to come here for over a hundred years, specifically from Mexico, to now saying, “No, we don’t want you here, and you’re violent,” and of course blaming all of the ills — it’s really unfortunate that we’re being allowed to utilize the so-called failed miserably war on drugs in order to militarize our border and really the rest of our society. So we’re hoping the investigation of Joe Arpaio will not only rid us of Joe Arpaio, 287(g)s, but hopefully will open up into a real needed dialog by the American public into immigration and security.