Federal authorities promised today to take up the slack in Maricopa County jails following the severing of ties with the sheriff's office over allegations of widespread racial profiling.
In a letter today to Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security vowed to leave "no gap" in immigration enforcement.
Fifty agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau have now been assigned to "screen, identify, apprehend and remove criminal aliens found in the jails of Maricopa County," wrote Nelson Peacock, DHS assistant secretary for legislative affairs, in the letter.
Until last week, ICE had allowed Sheriff Arpaio's jail officers to screen inmates suspected of being illegal immigrants through a program known as 287(g), in which deputies were cross-trained as immigration officers and allowed to access federal databases. The feds had canceled the 287(g) privilege for Arpaio's street-level deputies in 2009 following complaints by the community, but had let the jail program continue and even bragged about its successes.
Peacock's letter, sent in response to a letter sent to DHS on Friday by Senator Kyl, notes that the systemic civil-rights violations in Arpaio's shop extended to the jail system, and ICE has "no interest in supporting" the pattern of racial discrimination.
Peacock says the newly reassigned federal officers:
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...will perform the work previously conducted by 287(g) officers and will ensure that criminal aliens and other removable public safety threats are not released into the community. These federal officers will have full access to Secure Communities and will continue this work until such time as DOJ is satisfied that MCSO has remedied the unlawful practices outlined in the DOJ report. In short, there will be no gap in immigration enforcement in Maricopa County.
DHS sent New Times Peacock's letter this afternoon to answer some of the questions we asked. We're still wondering how and why ICE and DHS managed to let this problem fester for so long, and what the failure to stop the racial discrimination sooner says about the feds' ability to act as a replacement for Arpaio's team.
But the addition of 50 officers will be better than nothing. All Arpaio needs to rally his supporters -- and divert attention from his office's "culture of bias" -- is one illegal immigrant to commit a serious crime after being released from jail, or for ICE to deport a high-level felon before a trial.