Police State: How the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency Turned All Local Authorities Into La Migra

Alexis Estrada-Garcia of Guadalajara, Mexico, must have been surprised when the officer asked for her identification. She was just a passenger in the vehicle the officer had pulled over one evening in late February and probably did not think she was doing anything illegal.

But there is a seat belt law in this state, and Estrada-Garcia was not wearing one. That violation triggered a more obscure law, one that says a vehicle passenger suspected of violating any traffic law is obligated to show a valid ID to police.

Estrada-Garcia did not have identification, and off to jail she went. There, police discovered she was an illegal immigrant.

Undocumented day laborers in Chandler.
Ray Stern
Undocumented day laborers in Chandler.
Lieutenant Ramon Figueroa of the Arizona Department of Safety.
Michael Ratcliff
Lieutenant Ramon Figueroa of the Arizona Department of Safety.

A couple of years ago, Estrada-Garcia would have been cited and released back into the community for her offense. But times have changed.

She was driven directly to a Phoenix facility of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. Though New Times could not determine by press time what happened to her, the overwhelming likelihood is that she was shipped back to Mexico on a bus the next day.

The same sort of thing happened last month to Miguel Molina-Sepulveda, a passenger in a Plymouth minivan that got pulled over for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. A police report states he was not wearing his seat belt either.

Neither the van's driver nor Molina-Sepulveda could present ID. Driver and passenger were arrested, turned over to ICE, and apparently deported.

You could say Molina-Sepulveda's arrest in Cave Creek was par for the course these days: He was picked up in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweeps.

Yet it was Scottsdale police who handed over Estrada-Garcia to ICE.

She was one of hundreds of illegal immigrants who ended up deported after being arrested by Scottsdale police this year. True, most of them were accused of worse crimes than "non-driver failed to show ID."

But not much worse.

Reports obtained from Scottsdale show that though plenty of illegal immigrants get busted for DUI, forgery, theft, or more serious crimes, most of the time they are arrested while doing something that nearly any undocumented resident has to do to get around in the automobile-centric Phoenix metro area: drive without a license despite previous citations, give fake names to police officers, violate promises to appear in court, or drive with no ID at all.

For minor crimes that usually would not merit jail time, the punishment is almost always the same: deportation.

The Scottsdale department was among the first to tweak its policy on illegal aliens, requiring that everyone arrested — even for minor crimes — be checked for immigration status.

Now its policy is the norm among major Valley police agencies.

But the real change for illegals is that once their status is discovered, Valley cities get help from ICE that was unheard of two years ago — help ensuring that nearly every illegal immigrant arrested by any local police agency will be removed quickly from the country.

The fact is, for all the wailing over Arpaio's heavy-handed, ethnically oriented crime sweeps, illegal immigrants in the Valley now know:

Cops anywhere in Maricopa County equal La Migra.

In 2006, the ICE field office in Phoenix was poorly staffed and had been reined in by its bosses in Washington.

Then came a new ICE leader, new orders from Washington, and more money for personnel.

As it had done in other states, ICE began signing 287(g) agreements that cross-designated local law enforcers and detention officers as immigration agents. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Phoenix Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and the state Department of Corrections all signed 287(g) agreements with the feds — as did law-enforcement agencies in Pima, Pinal, and Yavapai counties.

Combined with the state's new human-smuggling law, passed in August 2006, Arizona authorities were suddenly identifying more illegal aliens than ever.

And, as promised, ICE was there to help. Illegal immigrants are now getting picked up from local jails, prisons, and crime scenes in record numbers.

The changes, along with the new police policies, have essentially transformed police, state troopers, deputies, and jail and prison guards into part-time immigration enforcers.

And plenty of Arizonans, especially in Maricopa County, agree that is exactly what should be done. The pressure on law enforcement has come from the bottom up. It has been a large segment of the public loudly demanding that local leaders act in a way the feds cannot, or will not.

In 2006, voters approved, by 3-to-1 margins, a quartet of anti-illegal-immigrant proposals that denied bail, lawsuit awards, in-state tuition, and various state benefits to undocumented residents. Last year, Arizona lawmakers, led by then-State Representative Russell Pearce of Mesa, kicked off the toughest law in the country for businesses that knowingly hired illegals. (This year, East Valley Republicans nominated Pearce to be state senator. He faces weak Democratic opposition in the general election.) In Phoenix, liberal-leaning Mayor Phil Gordon felt compelled to lead the city's police force to a more aggressive stance on illegals.

And, of course, it cannot be overlooked that many, if not most, county residents seem to support the most draconian enforcement effort in the Valley — the one run by Arpaio, a publicity-seeking politician hoping to win his fifth term in office next month. State and municipal police do not want to adopt Arpaio's harsh techniques, but they also know that an angry public is fed up with the "catch-and-release" method of enforcement.

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"concerned citizen"... no one is buying your nonsense. We've already seen what happened to California as a result of mass illegal invasion, and we're not going to let the same thing happen to Arizona. Enough is enough.

If people have a problem with US employers or labor law, let them spend their time and lawsuit money on those issues, but AZ & US taxpayers and citizens are not going to tolerate being defrauded any longer. To insinuate that the half a million illegals in AZ all had a hand in constructing the infrastructure of the State of AZ is unfounded.

Most of these illegals are new arrivals, often just passing through before heading for the interior of the USA, so most them had no hand in building anything, and are just squatters, benefit and SS# thieves, and interlopers. Their presence here is illegal, and we expect our laws to be enforced.

If you and some of your rich friends made money off the labor of illegals, that is on your conscience, and you are free to relinquish your ill gotten gains into the coffers of La Raza, MeCha, or any of the other illegal alien enabling groups.

Just keep your hands off our tax money, our benefits, our laws, and our sovereignty. If you want to live in Mexico, or Mexifornia, then move there... stop trying to bring those places here, because we don't want it. The citizens have spoken in the legislature and at the ballot box, so please cease from pestering us with your sophistry.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Arizona was built off the backs of immigrants legal and illegal. The corporations and state enjoyed prosperity because of the cheap labor. NAPTA has made the situation worse. Decades later at this late date, the elected officials have created fear, bigotry and division in what was once a fine community. By inflaming the public knee-jerks laws have been put in place that threatens all of our rights, not just those this group is targeting. This is citizen and Republican is not fooled by the tactics of Arpaio, his former underling Pearce, and his legal counsel County Attorney Andrew Thomas who tied up the courts and those he doesn't care for in ongoing, out of control litigation which cannot be sustained in a state and country that are in crisis.

The arrogance and abuse of power by Arpaio, Thomas, Pearce and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must be brought to immediate halt if we are to survive as "free" people. Illegal immigration is another election "label" to mask the very serious issues facing people in Maricopa County and the State of Arizona, and the corruption which this state is well known for.

16 years is too long for any official to be in control. It's time for a new Sheriff, oversight and transparency in that office. We do not need people with God complexes running any office with our tax dollars. They serve us, not the other way around. Anyone who speaks out is subject to retaliation, as we can see incident after incident.

This Republican will vote for Dan Saban and hope he can restore the damage done to the Sheriff's office.

Deport Em
Deport Em

I applaud Arizona, Sheriff Joe and all the others who are finally taking a step in the right direction, which is finding, detaining and deporting illegals. Stopping them for minor traffic violations often turns up more that just that violation. Happens on COPS all the time. The ACLU should change their name to MCLU cause they are more interested in helping law breaking Mexicans than supporting American rule of law. I wish every state would take the hard line that Arizona has. The numbers show they ARE making a difference. I look forward to seeing Sheriff Joe re-elected and shoving that in the face of all the illegal lovers who want him voted out. If the illegals weren't breaking laws then they would not have to fear the police. They took the risk to break into our country, so they must all take fall if caught. Good job AZ and ICE. Keep up the good fight !!


The ACLU is a fraud and works day and night to usurp the rights of American citizens. They would have an endless amount of work just monitoring what the present administartion has done suspending Posse Commitatus, etc. but no, fighting for the rights of illegal alien foreign nationals is more important to them.

As for people like Mayor Gordon, Napolitano, Giffords and other non-representatives of the people, Arizonans get what they deserve. Honest people like Russel Pierce and so many others, are often ignored in favor of un-American idiots like the above. Even folks like Sheriff Arpaio are having to struggle to do the job he was elected to do, keeping the citizenry safe. One things for sure. We will sleep in the bed we made. Right? Liberals who are victims of the crimes of unregulated foreign nationals, need not come crying to more sensible and rational Americans.


All illegal alien Mexicans must be deported. They have arrogantly abused this nation and its citizen taxpayers enough now. No more street marches, document fraud, tax fraud, welfare fraud, lying, stealing and cheating. Americans have enough to do in trying to clear up the lying stealing and cheating on Wall Street and in the Congress and Senate.


Why does Stern and the New Times have a problem with our laws being enforced?

Why do they continue to advocate for lawbreakers, and propagandize against those enforcing our laws?

It's just sickening. We've already seen California destroyed by unrestrained illegal immigration, and now Stern and the New Times want to see Arizona destroyed in the same way.


Of what possible benefit is it to US Citizens in Arizona to allow this state to be overrun and eventually bankrupted by millions of illegal Mexicans?

Do we have some sort of obligation to allow our state and country to be overrun by illegals?

It just doesn't make any sense.

Omar Tentmaker
Omar Tentmaker

Author Ray Stern cannot bring himself to acknowledge that the new general-public endorsed immigration enforcement approaches, while admittedly imperfect and to some degree ineffective, are better than the open borders policy long allowed by the federal government.

I.B. Wundrin
I.B. Wundrin

When a person is in this country illegally, you cannot call deportation "punishment"! I'd call it a free ride back to where the person is a legal resident. Pretty humane treatment in my book.

Equity Court Services of Arizo
Equity Court Services of Arizo

"In two cases detailed in the ACLU lawsuit, Hispanic drivers and passengers appear to have been singled out by overly aggressive deputies trying to find illegal immigrants."

Mr. Stern, why didn't you state your real opinion that the lawsuit is frivolous and malicious? You wrote about it and gave us some solid information about the witnesses. We thank you.

Check out the filed papers in that case and you'll see a "Motion to Intervene" and a "Demand" that's detailed and credible. Why didn't you mention that? Noone on this end is kidding about it coming up for a hearing.

In terms of solutions, when was the last time you assisted an illegal with a USCIS remedy? No mention of that, just another crybaby comment about the DRO being in the same building. The filing of papers could PREVENT some people from going to the DRO Unit.

Advocacy journalism can be great, but it's undermined by such bias, inaccuracy, and deliberate omissions.

John "Johnny On The Spot" O'Sullivanfor "The Global Equity"

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