Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is shutting down his Criminal Employment Unit, which notoriously raided businesses around the county to arrest undocumented immigrant employees.
Immigrant-rights groups sued Arpaio over the raids earlier this year, and as part of that lawsuit, Arpaio submitted a notice yesterday stating that the unit is going to be disbanded.
"It's good in the sense that [Arpaio's] responding and realizing that he's going to lose this battle," Puente Arizona director Carlos Garcia tells New Times. However, an MCSO memo filed in the case says the unit's not disbanding immediately.
"After thorough discussion with Command Staff, it has been determined that the Criminal Employment Unit (CEU) will be disbanded after the current identity theft investigation concludes in the end of January or early February of 2015," an MCSO memo states. "The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will be voluntarily enjoining themselves from investigating identity theft for the purposes of gaining employment."
The plaintiffs will continue the lawsuit, seeking to have a federal judge's order put the kibosh on Arpaio's unit, instead of just MCSO's word that it's coming to an end.
"He continues this fear mongering, and trying to scare our community," Garcia says. "I think if he's serious about stopping and realizing what he's doing is wrong, he shouldn't be announcing that he's doing one or two more [raids]."
This move by the Sheriff's Office comes after more than 80 businesses were raided over the years, and hundreds of immigrant workers were arrested.
Using a false or fictitious identity to gain employment only became a crime in Arizona through a pair of laws championed by recalled Senate President Russell Pearce in 2007 and 2008, and those laws have since been used by Arpaio's office to swoop in on places like restaurants and arrest undocumented cooks and dishwashers. Nearly 800 people have been arrested by this unit.
The lawsuit's plaintiffs -- including Puente Arizona, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and others -- cited several problems with the laws, namely how they were crafted and enforced in a discriminatory fashion.
"Proponents of the bill were committed to ensuring that workers under would receive a harsh penalty under the measure, because of their undocumented status and because the provision had to do with immigration," the lawsuit states, alongside quotes from the legislators speaking to that effect.
The result was that Arpaio's office would arrest these people, and then charged with a high-level felony, so a person arrested for simply making up a Social Security Number would be jailed until trial, without bond. Alternatively, the immigrants could take plea deals to get out of jail, but then face deportation.
This is another major step in Arpaio's MCSO being pushed out of the immigration-enforcement business.
His sweeps have effectively been killed by the Melendres racial-profiling lawsuit, and the courts have also killed Arizona's "self-smuggling" law, which allowed for the prosecution of immigrants for conspiring to smuggle themselves into the country.
According to an MCSO memo, members of the Criminal Employment Unit will be transferred to other units, and a grant from the state for the enforcement will be returned.
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