In a public letter to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the American Civil Liberties Union calls the governor's new plan for an anti-drug-trafficking border Strike Force "seriously concerning" and potentially “devastating.”
Ducey, who campaigned on a promise of mitigating cross-border human and drug trafficking, says he's making good on this promise with a new – and possibly very expensive – initiative.
Few details about the program have been revealed to the public, other than the force is intended to be the third-largest bureau within the Arizona Department of Public Safety and will involve a coordinated effort with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
Ducey reportedly told the Arizona Republic that the goal of this program is to “make it too risky and too expensive for . . . criminal organizations to operate” across Arizona's borders and that “it's the cartels and the traffickers that we want to focus on . . . That's what a strike force is going to aim at."
James Duff Lyall, a staff attorney with the ACLU, tells New Times that this “lack of transparency” is the first glaring red flag about the program: “We don't know what Arizonans' tax dollars are being put to or even how much will be spent.”
He says there are a lot of questions “policy makers and the public need to be asking,” but can't, simply because the whole program is shrouded in mystery.
Ducey has said in the past that he will reveal more details about the strike force during a Senate hearing on heroin trafficking today, but still, Lyall and those at the ACLU have concerns: “We don't know what, if any, additional details will come to light [and] essentially our concern is that this program could be extremely expensive and . . . do harm to border communities” if policies are implemented in a discriminatory way.
He calls it “a recipe for racial profiling.”
The ACLU has “serious concerns that this plan will further militarize our communities and entangle Arizona law enforcement in U.S. border policies. These concerns are particularly acute given the extensive harm Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 and similar anti-immigrant initiatives already have inflicted on the state and its residents — including discriminatory police practices that result from involving local law enforcement in border enforcement,” says Alexandra Solar, executive director of the Arizona ACLU.
“This program calls to mind a similar initiative that's been under way in Texas that, by most accounts, has been a total debacle,” Lyall says.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry's “Operation Strong Safety” sent hundreds of state Department of Public Safety and National Guard members to the border, he says, "and the experience in Texas has been lambasted by bipartisan critics. [Also] the media has presented evidence that it actually hindered border efforts and made [the region] less safe after literally hundreds of millions of dollar were spent.”
The editorial board of the Houstin Chronicle wrote in a recent op-ed: “[The] $800 million of Texas taxpayer money [was] spent on a campaign pledge to bolster the now-defunct presidential campaign of a former Texas governor trying to portray himself as border commander in chief, and to mollify Texas tea partiers convinced that hordes of Mexicans are surging across the Rio Grande and invading cities and towns across America.
“What those hundreds of millions of dollars really represent is monumental waste.”
Lyall says even if Ducey's program is a more moderate version of Perry's, it still runs the risk of “being extremely damaging to border communities” and wasting taxpayer dollars.
He goes on to call Ducey's strike force the latest example of the “failed War on Drugs,” which he notes has received a tremendous amount of bipartisan criticism for targeting the supply of drugs rather than the demand.
It's the huge demand for drugs on the American side of the border that's fueling the trafficking, Lyall says, and “we question whether these resources would be better spent on treatment and prevention programs” throughout the country.
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“You know that Einstein quote, that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results?” he says. “This sure sounds like more of the same.”
Read the ACLU's letter to Governor Ducey: