Stepping off the plane in Washington D.C. this afternoon was like my first trip to New York many moons ago. The cab driver is Russian. The hotel front desk guy is from someplace in Africa. The room service waiter is from El Salvador. In other words, D.C. shows us to be a nation of immigrants. The nativists back in Arizona would freak out.
Not that you can't find diversity in Phoenix and Maricopa County, it's just that it scares the bejeezus out of too many local Caucasians. For many in AZ, Mexicans are a despised class, one that's ruthlessly exploited, marginalized and cast as criminal, even when members been here for decades, never committed a serious crime, and have children born on American soil.
Regular readers of Feathered Bastard can guess why I'm here in the nation's capital -- to live blog the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on immigration law, the 287(g) program, and, in part, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's handling of it. Sadly, Arpaio (pictured) couldn't make it to the hearings. It would have been grand to see Maricopa County's boisterous top gendarme under the direct interrogation of the U.S. Congress.
For those of you who do not dwell in the Grand Canyon State, and are only vaguely familiar with the guy from his appearances on Lou Dobbs, where he once declared, "It's an honor," to be referred to as "KKK," I would suggest you imagine a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard. That's to say he's part clown, part power-mad authoritarian.
For 16 years, Arpaio has ruled Maricopa County like a petty tyrant. In Arpaio's Arizona, enemies are retaliated against. Editors and publishers are jailed (as were Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin in 2007). Deaths and injuries in his medieval gulags are shrugged off, as are the multi-million dollar payouts because of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's malfeasance. Indeed, Arpaio's the most-sued sheriff in the nation, with $42.3 million and counting in settlements and awards against his department.
A little over two years ago, Arpaio jumped on the anti-illegal immigrant bandwagon, and has been riding it ever since. Under the federal 287(g) program, he has the largest contingent of officers deputized to enforce federal immigration law in the country -- 160. And he's been using them for anti-immigrant sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods, pulling over cooks and gardeners on traffic violations as a pretext to ask them about their immigration status.
Currently the MCSO is under investigation by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations, and the ACLU has a lawsuit pending concerning allegations of racial profiling. The Democratic leadership of the House Judiciary Committee had called on DOJ to do something, and now DOJ is doing it. These hearings will hopefully explore how this federal 287(g) authority is misused by such bad actors as Arpaio.
Phoenix New Times' special reports section on Arpaio has all the background on the Sheriff. As for the hearings themselves, just stay glued to this blog, and I'll tell you everything you need to know.