"WTF?!" That's what this ticked-off Toucan thought when he saw that local Immigration and Customs Enforcement flack Vinnie Picard was quoted in the paper of record as saying, "Arizona's 287(g) program is working as intended," and that there are no "firsthand" complaints of racial-profiling lodged with the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part.
Had Vinnie been smokin' the good ganja? Does the guy read the papers? Or does he just use them to roll himself a fat doobie?
Zack de la Rocha
Even if Picard never got around to perusing the ACLU's big lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio alleging all kinds of civil rights abuses, complaints regarding Arpaio's 287(g)-men — you know, the 160 MCSO deputies "cross-trained" by the feds as ICE agents — are as plentiful as frickin' poppies in Afghanistan these days.
The Bird figures you'd have to be doing your best King Oedipus impersonation to not see evidence that Arpaio's abusing his 287(g) powers. Maybe Vinnie never got his invite to Joe's 200 Mexican March earlier this month, where Arpaio segregated a passel of undocumented immigrants in their own separate Tent City, with its own electrified fence, marching them past a gantlet of shutterbugs from the Fourth Estate.
Though all of those poor saps were wearing striped shirts reading "UNSENTENCED" — meaning they were awaiting trial — they probably all had ICE holds on them, as Arpaio had identified them as illegal immigrants.
Why, that stunt has pissed off folks far and wide, from legislators in Mexico to the New York Times, which denounced the barbaric photo op and called on DHS to rein in Maricopa County's Bull Connor.
Arpaio's sick media event even awoke a sleeping giant, the U.S. Congress, in the form of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan and three other ranking Dems on the committee, who wrote a stern letter to Barack Obama's new attorney general, Eric Holder, and DHS chief, Janet Napolitano, telling them to get busy and investigate Arpaio's wrinkled ass.
But Picard must've missed all that, 'cause here he was spouting the party line, saying all was hunky-dory in Denmark — despite that rotten flounder smell. This feathered fiend decided to give the flack a call to give him a hard time about his bout with foot-in-mouth disease. But Picard's lips had been permanently sealed by his superiors on the issue of the 287(g) program, and he was referring all calls to one of his betters in D.C.
Picard did make clear, however, that this was a new policy, one that came after his statements to the local daily. So this peeved parakeet phoned ICE headquarters in D.C. The call was not returned.
ICE is sure sensitive all of a sudden. Aren't these the badasses who go around breaking up families, throwing dishwashers and day laborers in jail, treating moms and dads like they're thieves and killers? Big, tough hombres, eh? So tough, that at least under Arpaio's command, his 287(g) thugs wear black ski masks while they're pulling over little old ladies and gardeners for traffic violations.
Really, this heron's heart goes out to Picard and all the government flacks forced to rationalize the vile stuff ICE does on a regular basis in the name of immigration enforcement. The ones who should go down — whose careers should rightfully be ruined and who should be butt-kicked out of government service — are a-holes like Arizona ICE pooh-bah Matthew Allen, whose lips have been KrazyGlued to Joe Arpaio's keister since he scored the job early last year. And, of course, Allen's bosses in D.C.
In other words, Picard is just a PR flunky, albeit a polite one for the local press to deal with. The real evil in ICE is further up the food chain.
ICE ON FIRE
Thing is, even without Arpaio as its albatross, ICE is besieged nationwide with bad news, tales of misdeeds, and study after study arguing that the 287(g) program should be tossed like a used Tiparillo.
Examples of ICE eff-ups are popping up daily, in newspapers from sea to shining sea. Recently, the Baltimore Sun reported that the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland obtained through the Freedom of Information Act a copy of an internal ICE document detailing an investigation into an ICE raid on a Baltimore 7-Eleven in 2007.
The ICE report contradicted statements from some ICE officers that they'd just happened to be grabbing a cup o' Joe at the 7-Eleven when they lucked upon a group of day laborers.
"The evidence revealed that the Fugitive Operations officers were ordered to seek additional arrests that day due to managerial pressure to produce statistics for Operation Return to Sender," said the ICE doc.
See, Operation Return to Sender is the name of a massive ICE dragnet that's stated intention is to collar criminal aliens, gangbangers, and such. Not the schmucks waiting for handyman work at the corner convenience store. The fact that ICE agents were pressured to essentially go out and grab every Mexican they could lay their hands on runs counter to ICE's propaganda on the subject.
On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times reports that an immigration judge recently tossed the case against alleged undocumented worker Gregorio Perez Cruz, pinched in an ICE raid of a Van Nuys, California company. ICE's goons failed to advise Cruz of his rights and deprived him of food and water for 18 hours while they interrogated him, forcing him to sleep on a concrete floor.
At least Cruz survived his detention. Lately, ICE's been having almost as many problems as Joe when it comes to prisoner deaths.
According to the Washington Post, ICE was forced to stop detentions at a county jail in northern Virginia after Guido Newbrough, a 48-year-old German immigrant who came to this country when he was 6 years old, died from "massive organ failure brought on by an untreated bacterial infection." This, after his jailers allegedly ignored his repeated requests for medical care.
At the beginning of February, the Associated Press ran a piece about how the widow of a Chinese immigrant is suing ICE for a death at a Rhode Island facility it contracts with.
"Hiu Lui 'Jason' Ng, a 34-year-old computer engineer accused of overstaying his visa, died of liver cancer in August," states the item, "weeks after being taken to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls [Rhode Island]. His cancer went undiagnosed until days before he died."
The Bird could go on and on and on. But ICE has more problems than just the dead stacking up like cordwood. Both ICE and its vaunted 287(g) program are under barrage from various think tanks for xenophobic, ineffective, and inhumane practices.
The Pew Hispanic Center just published a study pointing out that, in 2007, "Latinos accounted for 40 percent of all sentenced federal offenders, more than triple their share of the total adult U.S. population." The reason? Immigration convictions are up 24 percent, and 80 percent of those convicted are Hispanic.
Of non-citizen Hispanics convicted federally, 81 percent were found guilty of entering unlawfully or residing in the United States without authorization — both of which are nonviolent, civil offenses.
A report by the Migration Policy Institute in D.C. found ICE and the DHS obsessed with meeting statistical goals and going after the low-hanging fruit of undocumented workers, rather than setting their sights on actual bad guys in the country illegally. The New York Times called the MPI study "largely a portrait of dysfunction."
MPI offered 36 ideas for cleaning up the mess but stopped short of the wholesale gutting of the 287(g) program. Leave that to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Law School, which just issued a report so scathing in its assessment of ICE's 287(g) program that it ultimately concludes that the best thing to do would be to call the priest and the pallbearers and bury the damn thing.
"The program, as illustrated through this policy paper, is too problematic, too costly, and too difficult to properly operate," asserts the take-no-prisoners policy review. "The existence of such a program . . . where a federal agency abdicates its authority to inadequately trained, less knowledgeable agents, indicates fundamental issues with the current federal immigration law enforcement scheme."
The UNC-CH assessment faults the ICE program for its lack of oversight, its abrogation of federal and state laws — as well as the U.S. Constitution, its unfunded mandates, and the unlawful detention of lawful residents and U.S. citizens by 287(g)-trained officers.
Interestingly, the UNC-CH team, which labored a year to produce the report, never once mentions Sheriff Joe Arpaio or Arizona. Rather, the group focused on the use of the 287(g) program by eight law enforcement entities in North Carolina. But its conclusions parallel those of this plumed penman when it comes to the use of 287(g) here in Sand Land.
It points out that the 287(g) program "was originally intended to target and remove undocumented immigrants convicted of [in ICE's own words] 'violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling, and money laundering.'"
But the Memoranda of Agreement that define how each local police force or sheriff's office is to use its federal 287(g) authority "are in actuality being used to purge towns and cities of 'unwelcome' immigrants . . . thereby having detrimental effects on North Carolina's communities."
The UNC-CH report doesn't use the term "ethnic cleansing," but 287(g) is a de facto tool for it. Where immigrants were once in desperate need in Arizona's housing industry, they've been a draw in North Carolina for a different reason — agriculture.
The infusion of Central American workers into communities made up mostly of whites and blacks has led to a rise in anti-Hispanic sentiment. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell stated last year that immigrants are "breeding like rabbits," are "trashy," and "rob, rape, and murder American citizens."
Another N.C. sheriff, Terry Johnson of Alamance County, lamented all the "foreign-born illegal, criminal immigrants" who had come to settle in his county. He further offered up, "In Mexico, there's nothing wrong with having sex with a 12-, 13-year-old-girl . . . They do a lot of drinking down in Mexico."
Both Bizzell and Johnson, like Arpaio, see themselves as responding to the masses by weeding out illegals. And they ain't the only ones. The 287(g) program has empowered like-minded bigots and opportunists all across the country.
But beyond propping up local tyrants and prejudiced politicians, the 287(g) program is an abject failure in the eyes of Judith Greene, co-author of a report on 287(g) by the think tank Justice Strategies. Set to drop this week, the report, "Local Democracy on ICE," reveals how local governments are getting stiffed as tax dollars are diverted from traditional police functions to running after waiters and maids without proper ID. She told this tweeter that, ultimately, it's citizenry that foots the bill for 287(g) shenanigans, though ICE pays for training and throws localities a bone here and there.
"There is a growing consensus that the 287(g) program needs to be ended," she explained to The Bird from her home in Brooklyn, saying that from a strict cost-benefit analysis, the program's a bust.
This avian's in complete agreement. Sure, ICE can point to scads of domestic workers booted from the country. But has that made us any safer from real criminals? Of course not.
RAGE AGAINST ARPAIO
The Bird argues that those congregating in Phoenix this Saturday for the anti-Arpaio/anti-287(g) march beginning at 9 a.m. at Steele Indian School Park need to keep in mind that Arpaio's a symptom, but he ain't the whole disease.
Indeed, sources tell The Bird that ICE may attempt to fake out those on the left and in the pro-immigrant community by suspending Joe Arpaio's 287(g) agreement and, perhaps, even offer a few lip-service reforms, while keeping the 287(g) program in place. That's not good enough.
As the UNC-CH study suggests, the 287(g) program needs to be killed off deader than Heath Ledger. President Obama has ordered the closing of Gitmo within a year (see this week's cover story, starting on page 15). He should act even quicker to put an end to this country's shameful treatment of non-criminal aliens, and offer them a path to legalization.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Until this is done, activists need to raise a ruckus as if George W. Bush were still in office. Even more so. It's easy to protest demonized enemies like W. It's another thing altogether to take on politicians you helped elect.
This beak-bearer was encouraged to learn that Rage Against the Machine's radical frontman, Zack de la Rocha, has endorsed the anti-Joe action this Saturday and has promised to put foot to concrete himself. De la Rocha's statement reminds this raven of the days when actors and intellectuals marched in civil rights protests in the '60s.
"To witness what is happening in Arizona and remain neutral is to be implicated in human rights violations that are occurring right here on U.S. soil against migrants," de la Rocha said in a statement released by the L.A.-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Just don't forget that even if Phoenix is the Selma, Alabama, of today's immigrant rights struggle, 287(g) isn't just bad for Cactus Country. It's bad all-around. Yeah, we need to topple Arpaio. But we also need to cut off the source of his federal power, so there are no more little Arpaios emboldened by 287(g) elsewhere.