A project of the Center for Community Change

Arpaio’s America

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This week, I posted on the new low hit by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, when he marched over 200 immigrant detainees shackled through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Today, the New York Times published an editorial calling on the new head of DHS, Janet Napolitano and the Federal Government to gain back control on an immigration enforcement system that has gone unchecked for much too long. I think its worthwhile to re-print the full piece here.

It has come to this: In Phoenix on Wednesday, more than 200 men in shackles and prison stripes were marched under armed guard past a gantlet of TV cameras to a tent prison encircled by an electric fence. They were inmates being sent to await deportation in a new immigrant detention camp minutes from the center of America’s fifth-largest city.

The judge, jury and exhibitioner of this degrading spectacle was the Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, the publicity-obsessed star of a Fox reality show and the self-appointed scourge of illegal immigrants. Though he frequently and proudly insists that he answers to no one, except at election time, the sheriff is not an isolated rogue. As a participant in the federal policing program called 287(g), he is an official partner of the United States government in its warped crackdown on illegal immigration.

The immigration enforcement regime left by the Bush Administration is out of control. It is up to President Obama and the new secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, to rein it in and clean it up. This applies not just to off-the-rails deputies like Sheriff Arpaio, but to the federal enforcement agencies themselves.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol have been shown in recent news accounts to be botching their jobs. Border Patrol agents in California have accused supervisors of setting arrest quotas for undocumented immigrants, and a recent Migration Policy Institute study showed that a much-touted campaign of raids against criminal fugitives was a failure. It netted mostly the maids and laborers who are no reasonable person’s idea of a national threat.

The burden of action is particularly high on Ms. Napolitano, who as Arizona’s governor handled Sheriff Arpaio with a gingerly caution that looked to some of his critics and victims as calculated and timid.

Ms. Napolitano, who is known as a serious and moderate voice on immigration, recently directed her agency to review its enforcement efforts, including looking at ways to expand the 287(g) program. Sheriff Arpaio is a powerful argument for doing just the opposite.

Now that she has left Arizona politics behind, Ms. Napolitano is free to prove this is not Arpaio’s America, where the mob rules and immigrants are subject to ritual humiliation. The country should expect no less.


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