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Major Protest Planned Against Arizona Sheriff Famous for Parading Undocumented Prisoners

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A major protest is planned against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of practicing discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. Last month, the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into Arpaio’s immigration enforcement policies. We speak with an Arizona reporter who just won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the controversial sheriff, as well as a public defender who has been at the forefront of immigrant rights for over thirty years. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryApr 27, 2009Major Protest Planned Against Arizona Sheriff Famous for Parading Undocumented Prisoners
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security are developing contingency plans to deploy the National Guard along the US-Mexico border. The Washington Post reported this on Saturday. The proposal falls under a $350 million initiative for, quote, “counter-narcotics and other activities” that was part of the supplemental budget request sent to Congress this month.

Last month, President Obama said he was, quote, “not interested in militarizing the border.” But the Post quotes anonymous Obama administration officials who say under this plan the National Guard could be called upon to help with counter-narcotics surveillance and controlling illegal immigration.

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the appointment of former federal prosecutor Alan Bersin as the new “border czar” and outlined the administration’s main priorities for the US-Mexico border.

    JANET NAPOLITANO: Everything that can be done to ensure this border remains safe and secure, to assist the government of Mexico in their efforts against the cartels and the cartel violence in Mexico, Ciudad Juarez being an example of that, and we’re going to make sure that those who come and seek to violate our laws by entering our country illegally or bringing contraband into our country or those who seek going south to carry illegal guns and cash south, that they are apprehended and prosecuted.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today, as we broadcast from the border state of Arizona, we spend the hour looking at the vast human and environmental toll of immigration enforcement measures in recent years.

We’re beginning with an update on the official who’s been the focus of recent nationwide protests, a man who likes to call himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Last month, the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into his immigration enforcement policies. Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about Sheriff Arpaio at a hearing on the public safety and civil rights implications of state and local enforcement of federal immigration law. Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton and Bertha Lewis of ACORN have also made public calls for Sheriff Arpaio to resign.

But the Sheriff is undaunted and conducted an immigration sweep last Thursday night, arresting as many as twenty-three people.

I’m joined now by two guests here in Arizona. Ryan Gabrielson is a reporter with the East Valley Tribune. Along with former Tribune reporter Paul Giblin, he has just won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting and the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting for their five-part series on Sheriff Arpaio called “Reasonable Doubt.” He joins us now from Phoenix.

We’re also joined here in Tucson by Isabel Garcia. A public defender in Pima County, she’s been at the forefront of the immigrant rights issue for over thirty years. She’s the co-chair of the Coalition of Human Rights and won the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award in 2008, as well as the National Human Rights Award in 2006 from Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights.

Ryan, let’s begin with you in Phoenix. There’s a major protest planned against Sheriff Arpaio for Saturday, for May 2nd. First of all, congratulations on your Pulitzer. And talk about the latest news with this, to say the least, controversial sheriff.

RYAN GABRIELSON: Certainly. Thank you very much for having me on.

There’s been a growing movement nationwide against the sheriff’s office, with protests from New York. Of course, it started in Phoenix. Increasingly, celebrities and other major prominent figures from across the country have come here or issued letter to the Arpaio —-

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan, we’re not quite hearing you in New York, but here in -— so we’re going to test that microphone.


AMY GOODMAN: But here in Tucson, we’re joined by Isabel Garcia. Isabel, this protest that has been planned, can you talk about why now and what’s happening here along the border?

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, since the mid-1990s, Arizona has become the state where all immigrants were funneled. Over 52 percent of all immigrants come in through the state of Arizona, we believe under an intentional strategy of creating really the most hostile environment for immigrants, growing not only anti-immigrants, chaos, division at the border, environmental disaster, but eventually to elect the most anti-immigrant folks, as well as pass anti-immigrant measures.

And sure enough, what we had predicted has come true. Joe Arpaio is exactly what was intended with this particular policy, and now we’re seeing the devastation of our communities, the division being caused in those communities and the suffering he has inflicted upon particularly Latino and indigenous communities in Phoenix.

The protest, of course, on Friday is part of an ongoing campaign to get rid of Joe Arpaio. We not only need to get rid of Joe Arpaio, but the underlying 287(g) agreements that he purportedly acts under, really as well as some of the legislation in Arizona. He has declared that even if 287(g) agreements are abolished, that he will continue to do what he does, because he has anti-smuggling statutes, he has aggravated identity theft statutes. In other words, we have enacted laws and initiatives in the state that are really anti-human and gives him an opportunity and an in, in order to commit the atrocities. The wholesale racial profiling, of course, is key. He has deputized Minutemen and other individuals that have a real hate agenda. And he has, of course, to the detriment of the taxpayer, particularly in Maricopa County, has focused on immigrants.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Garcia, for people who aren’t familiar with his record, the past, the whole issue of the humiliation of prisoners, the marching of prisoners through the streets, can you just go through one by one these actions that he is very proud of that people are so deeply concerned about?

ISABEL GARCIA: Yes. Prior to picking the immigrant as his target of his ire, he had already attempted to get the public attention by putting inmates in pink underwear, giving them green bologna sandwiches, creating these tent cities. And when the anti-immigrant fervor began here in Arizona, he saw in the immigrant another vehicle for his catapulting himself to a national prominence. And now he has the attention, of course, of all of the anti-immigrant folks.

He has paraded immigrants, rather than transporting them, as is the usual custom, in buses. He has paraded them through downtown Phoenix in striped uniforms, chained, and with all of the TV around him. In other words, he sends press releases days before he conducts these particular activities.

He touts that he conducts raids in workplaces in the middle of the night, in the morning, at any hour. He goes into neighborhoods doing wholesale racial profiling. The only real law enforcement technique he uses is the appearance, of course, of the individual.

This gentleman has caused suffering, has divided families. We have videos where the children are crying for their mother. We have testimonies from across the state about the antics of Joe Arpaio and the suffering that he has inflicted on our families, really following the basic wrong premises of immigration policies.

Yes, there is a probe. I’m very happy there’s a probe. But I think the Congress in this country has to take responsibility for the likes of Joe Arpaio, not countering the anti-immigrant and hate speech he has about immigrants. In other words, we have — we have created this monster.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip and then get a response from Ryan Gabrielson. The Sheriff has had to respond to the points that you make in your award-winning series quite a few times. This is an excerpt of an interview that Maria Hinojosa of PBS’s NOW did with the Sheriff last month.

    MARIA HINOJOSA: It has been discovered by the East Valley Tribune that your response rates to crimes, that you have wanted your response — you have said that your response rate goal is five minutes.


    MARIA HINOJOSA: It’s now up to eleven minutes.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: No, no, it is not. We have improved that. This is a year, a year and a half ago. You’re getting all your information from the New York Times editorial, from a newspaper.

    MARIA HINOJOSA: Well, this is the East Valley Tribune.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: I don’t care what the East Valley newspaper says.

    MARIA HINOJOSA: In your records, out of 669 people arrested by your human smuggling unit, 665 of them were Latinos, most of them stopped for traffic violations. So, how do you explain that?

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Are you talking about our great success we have in arresting illegal aliens?

    MARIA HINOJOSA: No, I’m asking you a very specific question.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: What is the question?

    MARIA HINOJOSA: It seems as if, by your own numbers, that hundreds upon hundreds of Latinos had violated the traffic code, while only four non-Latinos had violated the traffic code.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: We stop many people on traffic violations. That’s what law enforcement does.

    MARIA HINOJOSA: So, you’re stopping all of them?

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Of course.

    MARIA HINOJOSA: Can we see those records?

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: I don’t know if I —-

    MARIA HINOJOSA: That show us -—

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: No, I don’t know if I have the breakdown in those records.

    MARIA HINOJOSA: But how are we supposed to be able to judge you if you don’t have the breakdown of those records?

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Well, just take my word for it and look at the success that we have had.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Hinojosa, interviewing Sheriff Arpaio. Ryan Gabrielson, can you respond?

RYAN GABRIELSON: I wasn’t able to hear the feed very well, but I certainly recall the interview. They were able to largely just — he was largely just either trying to avoid questions directly about our investigation and talked about the larger issue of immigration enforcement by his office. Or he, in some cases, said, you know, “Yeah, we’re looking into that. We’re looking into” some of the things they found, like the internal affairs investigation they are conducting into the special victims unit, the people who are supposed to investigate sex crimes, where we found that in dozens of cases they actually weren’t — they were closing cases without ever actually opening an — sorry, without ever actually opening an investigation, at the same time while they were reassigning, you know, dozens of people to human smuggling units. So it’s — largely, in that interview, he conceded a lot of points that we found in the series, which they also did before we started publishing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you go through those major points? Again, congratulations for winning the Pulitzer Prize, that has just been announced, you, Ryan Gabrielson, writing for the East Valley Tribune. The major findings in this five-series report that you have co-authored?

RYAN GABRIELSON: Yeah, certainly. In the two years that the — first two years the sheriff’s office started conducting major operations targeting illegal immigrants, their response times to the most serious emergency calls just soared. Their arrest rate went from about ten percent, which isn’t terrific, but, you know, understandable, considering a lot of property crimes, it went from ten percent down to three percent.

And we found a number of cases, particularly in the little town of El Mirage, which the sheriff’s office is responsible for protecting, violent crimes that weren’t investigated. And we found similar instances in other communities that he serves, where cases that were supposed to be handled by the sheriff’s office simply were closed without ever any real checking into it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what you think it’s most important for people to understand outside Arizona? There’s a tremendous amount of tension inside the state here. Outside, we hear, well, you know, occasionally about Sheriff Arpaio. But to understand him in the context of Arizona and also — well, now the Department of Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, she was governor here.

RYAN GABRIELSON: Most certainly. His national — well, he’s had national significance for a long time. He’s really increased that a great deal with the immigration enforcement, by — he really changed his position on it. Before, in 2005, he called illegal immigration not a serious crime. But all of a sudden in 2006, he started focusing heavily on it. And it really raised his national profile.

He and Janet Napolitano actually largely had a pretty symbiotic relationship. They got — they, you know, worked with each other pretty well, until about a year ago, when she shifted some — about $600,000 of the money he received for immigration enforcement toward a new task force that was charged with reducing Maricopa County’s felony backlog, which is one of the largest in the nation and is another major point of stress for the sheriff’s office, because a lot of people argue that that should be one of his top priorities. We’ve got about 40,000 outstanding felony warrants that haven’t been served in Maricopa County, and his office is the repository for that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this conversation. We’re with Ryan Gabrielson, just won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Sheriff Arpaio here in Arizona. And we’re joined in the Tucson studio here at KUAT, Arizona’s public media, by Isabel Garcia, longtime public defender here, just near the border with Mexico. Stay with us.


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?


    STEPHEN COLBERT: That’s what those guys won the Pulitzer for today.






    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.

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Arizona Public Defender Blasts Militarization of Immigration Enforcement, Criminalization of Undocumented Workers

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