Several credible sources in the pro-immigrant activist community have informed me that they believe the House Judiciary Committee is afraid of taking on Sheriff Joe Arpaio directly, and is wary of having him become the centerpiece of the hearing.
These sources, who do not wish to be identified, say they've been asked to provide names of possible witnesses for the 287(g) hearing to take place Thursday, April 2. At the top of their list is Arpaio-nemesis, Mesa Police Chief George Gascon. But the activists tell me the committee is worried to call Gascon for fear that Arpaio's main protector on the committee, Arizona Republican Trent Franks will call Arpaio as a minority witness.
In essence, my sources believe the committee fears Arpaio's talents at showboating, and they fear his alliance with CNN's resident nativist Lou Dobbs, who is likely to champion Arpaio and go after the committee's leadership if they zero in on Arpaio during the hearing.
"They're also facing pressure from the Obama administration," one source relayed to me. "The Obama team has made it clear that health care is next on the agenda, and they want no distractions from health care."
Is it possible to have a hearing on 287(g) -- the ICE program that allows federally trained deputies to enforce immigration law -- and not talk about Arpaio, and his civil rights abuses? Yes, it's quite possible. One of the excuses my sources say they're hearing from the committee is that since Arpaio is being investigated by the Department of Justice, this investigation should be allowed to advance without interference.
At the recent Reform not Raids summit in Phoenix, I asked Phoenix civil rights activist Salvador Reza about the concerns of some of the other activists in contact with the committee.
"The 287(g) program is nationwide," said Reza. "And I understand the committee's concern because it's not only Arizona that's involved. But Arizona is the symbol, and Sheriff Arpaio is the poster-boy for 287(g). If we don't address the poster-boy then how can we address the rest of the 287(g) program?"
The committee's press contact Jonathan Godfrey declined to comment when asked about what activists and some politicos are stating. I've also contacted the Mesa PD for a comment from Chief Gascon, but have yet to hear back from them.
I have some free advice for the committee, go from the specific to the general. Use Arpaio as an example of why the 287(g) program is flawed and must be ended. As for Arpaio being called by the minority, so much the better. Hang Arpaio around the GOP's neck like an albatross. Get him in front of a mike and poke at him, chip away at his veneer. Arpaio has a very thin skin, and a short temper. There will be fireworks, but Arpaio will come across as a buffoon, an ogre.
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Welcome Arpaio as your centerpiece. I know that Chairman John Conyers has extended an invitation for Arpaio to appear, and Arpaio has declined. If the committee flinches now, the Republicans and Arpaio will claim victory. Take a look at this recent PBS Now program on Arpaio, and watch carefully correspondent Maria Hinojosa's interview with Joe, beginning about 17:39 in. When Joe is contradicted with facts, he overreacts. And under the hot lights at a committee hearing, with prolonged questioning, Arpaio will likely explode. In other words, you have nothing to fear.
Also, there's no guarantee that the DOJ probe will go anywhere, and that's why the committee needs to grill Arpaio like a fresh hunk of tenderloin, should Trent Franks be so unwise as to call him. Without constant scrutiny, the DOJ might let Arpaio slide with a wrist-slap. Here in Maricopa County, immigrants live in constant fear because of this man. Sometimes their arms are broken in MCSO custody, or they are torn from their kids, or they die in his jails.Without the federal government's intervention, there may be no hope of justice for these people.
That's why Thursday's hearing is so vital, and why the members of the committee have a moral obligation to expose Arpaio's misdeeds, and ask why such a man has been granted federal authority under 287(g).