Arpaio Fires Up Hispanic-Hunting Raids, Going After the Smallest Fish He Can Find

So here's a question for Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his enabler, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery: After 73 immigration raids on local businesses, why no perp-walks for employers?

Granted, Montgomery hasn't been around for all 73 raids. Nevertheless, he has no problem prosecuting undocumented workers for forgery and ID theft, holding them non-bondable under the provisions of Prop 100 after overcharging them for their supposed crimes.

So why not their bosses?

The Legal Arizona Workers Act, signed in 2007 by then-Governor Janet Napolitano (soon to be president of the University of California system after resigning her post as head of Homeland Security), offers civil penalties for an employer who intentionally hires an undocumented worker.

But there's also a possible criminal penalty under state law. Ironically, it can be found in the same statute that Montgomery's minions often use to prosecute undocumented workers.

See, Arizona Revised Statute 13-2008 makes it a class-four felony to "knowingly" take someone else's identity for any unlawful purpose.

But it also makes it a class-four felony to knowingly accept such information when hiring an employee.

Since Arpaio began doing worksite raids, the MCSO has perp-walked 729 undocumented arrestees.

And the sheriff's made sure, as he did with this most recent raid on two locations of the family chain Uncle Sam's, that TV cameras were present and allowed to film, as, um, dangerous cooks, dishwashers, and busboys were marched out in cuffs.

At the Uncle Sam's location on Union Hills Road, one undocumented worker, hiding his face with his shirt, told news cameras in broken English that he was "only working" and had "seven children."

Indeed, according to attorneys who've met with the men, they are in a state of panic because they are the sole breadwinners of their families.

I don't anticipate that such information will cause much angst among Anglo Arizonans. But what if the pillars of their communities, owners of local businesses — the engines that keep the economy rolling and provide needed goods and services — were to end up in Arpaio's perp-walks?

The County Attorney cannot say he doesn't have the resources to go after employers. Since 2008, the Arizona Legislature has allocated more than $5 million to the MCAO alone to enforce the Legal Arizona Workers Act.

And in that time, the County Attorney's Office has targeted only three businesses for civil penalties.

Apparently, all that dough — some of which the MCAO reportedly shares with the Sheriff's Office — is getting used to round up brown people.

The raids, like the MCSO sweeps, have been part of Arpaio's campaign to enforce federal immigration law.

That campaign took a direct hit in May, when federal Judge G. Murray Snow issued a 142-page ruling in Melendres v. Arpaio, finding the MCSO guilty of racial profiling during the sweeps.

Snow enjoined Arpaio from enforcing federal criminal-immigration law and from arresting anyone based on the state's civil employer-sanctions statute.

But the judge didn't preclude the MCSO from enforcing state laws.

Nevertheless, at a hearing before Judge Snow in June, Arpaio's lawyer, Tim Casey, declared to the court: "The MCSO is out of the immigration-enforcement business."

After the hearing, MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan sang a different tune, telling me and other reporters that he believed the worksite raids could continue.

That's because the MCSO is using the guise of state forgery and ID-theft laws.

But going after brown laborers, while ignoring the often white owners they work for, is patently discriminatory.

The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio, in part, takes aim at the MCSO's "unconstitutional and unlawful targeting of Latino workers and illegal detention of Latinos because of their race, color, or national origin, during worksite raids."

More than once during the trials of undocumented workers, sheriff's detectives said they don't pursue leads against or otherwise investigate employers.

During one such trial that I reported on in February, Detective Wade Voeltz of the MCSO's Criminal Employment Squad stated that the CES "looked at employees, primarily" because it found that going after employers was just too dang hard.

"Yeah, it seems like the employers, their skins aren't brown enough, so they just let them go," cracked attorney Ray Ybarra when I asked about the policy of Arpaio's office.

Ybarra has represented some of the undocumented workers caught up in the raids, one of whom he talked a jury into finding not guilty after raising the issue of the tipster who instigated the investigation against his client's employer.

The anonymous tipster claimed people at the business were recruiting undocumented workers. But when Ybarra asked MCSO detectives on the stand whether they had looked into the employer's hiring practices, they said no.

Similarly, in the investigation of Tempe manufacturer Sportex Apparel, calls from anonymous tipsters mentioned the names of two people at the company who allegedly recruited undocumented friends and family members.

In February, the MCSO raided Sportex, arresting 23 workers. While seeking an indictment, the County Attorney's Office portrayed the company as the employees' victim, and averred that Sportex had followed the law in hiring its workers.

Attorney Delia Salvatierra represents former Sportex worker Estela Morales-Ramos, arrested in the February raid.

In an April motion to send Ramos' case back to the grand jury, Salvatierra stated that of the 23 defendants charged, 18 had no-match letters either from the Social Security Administration or from the Arizona Department of Economic Security "that Sportex never sought to resolve."

Such letters note discrepancies in Social Security numbers given by employees to employers for withholding.

Salvatierra attached her client's no-match letter, part of the MCSO's investigative file, to the plea.

The attorney also accused the company of responding to some no-match letters by stating that the worker in question had quit.

But, then, "Sportex rehired the same person by accepting the same information."

Sportex co-owner Larry Deutsch declined immediate comment when asked about these allegations.

Morales-Ramos since has pleaded guilty to a much-lesser felony, with sentencing held off 'til October.

Is there still an investigation open on Sportex? Possibly. A public-records request from me to the MCSO for its investigative file on Sportex recently was declined because obeying Arizona's public-records law was "not in the interests of the state."

There is other movement afoot in these cases. Though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement once gave the MCAO a blueprint on how to charge undocumented workers to ensure their deportations, ICE recently administratively has closed such cases, releasing the undocumented persons turned over to ICE by Montgomery after forgery/ID-theft convictions.

The speculation is that such cases are viewed as "fruit of the poison tree." In other words, coming from a jurisdiction, such as Arpaio and Monty's, tainted by civil rights violations.

Arpaio's raid on Uncle Sam's was obvious retaliation for the administrative closing of a case involving the parents of 13-year-old Katherine Figueroa, who were arrested in Arpaio's 2009 raid of a local car wash.

The Figueroas' win received attention both from the Arizona Republic and the New York Times. On the same day their articles were published, Arpaio launched the Uncle Sam's raid.

Ten employees were arrested. Montgomery's office since has chosen to prosecute just four, stating that the "initial review" of the evidence didn't support charges against the rest "at this time."

At best, it's a half-measure.

The mere fact that employers and employees aren't equal under the law in Maricopa County proves that these prosecutions of undocumented workers are the product of prejudiced law enforcement.

Which is why the raids, like the sweeps before them, must end.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons