In a letter to Barack Obama dated Monday, September 28, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on the President to terminate the 287(g) program, and cease all of the so-called Memorandums of Understanding authorizing local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law.
The letter -- which is signed by Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez, Representative from New York, and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Chair of the CHC's Immigration Task Force -- takes note of efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to reform the program with supposedly new and improved agreements with local cops. But the missive makes it clear that the CHC, an influential group of lawmakers in a majority Democratic Congress, sees the 287(g) program as fatally flawed. (You can read the letter in its entirety, here.)
"Although its stated purpose is to provide law enforcement a tool to pursue criminals," notes the letter, "it is our experience that state and local law enforcement officials actually use their expanded and often unchecked powers under the program to target immigrants and persons of color. It is our opinion that no amount of reforms, no matter how well-intentioned, will change this disturbing reality."
The letter continues, with this verbal coup de grace: "For these reasons we ask you to reconsider your evaluation of 287(g) and instead of reforming it, end it entirely."
This communication comes less than a month after 521 organizations -- including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ADL, and the ACLU -- signed a letter pressuring the Obama administration to end the much-hated 287(g) program. That letter and this recently-released one from the CHC, which can be viewed on the Web site of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, each cite the current U.S. Department of Justice investigation into 287(g)-poster boy Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office's racial and ethnic profiling ways.
In July, DHS honcho Janet Napolitano announced new agreements for the scores of local law enforcement agencies that DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have partnered with. The new rules were seen as aimed at Arpaio and as a sop to the Hispanic community over concerns that Latinos are being treated as second-class citizens by 287(g)-empowered cops.
The new agreements have to be re-signed by the 60-plus agencies already involved within 90 days of the announcement. Those 90 days are almost up. Arpaio stated recently that he would sign the new agreement. But my sources inform me that negotiations are ongoing, and that Arpaio's side has sent DHS a "revised" version of the new agreement that would be acceptable to the sheriff.
Though federal worksite raids have generally been brought to heel under Napolitano, Arpaio continues to violate the terms of his old agreement with constitutionally questionable raids on businesses and neighborhood sweeps seeking undocumented Mexicans. This is why Arpaio remains a lightning rod for pro-immigrant and civil rights groups nationwide.
But Arpaio is a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself, which is a deadly mixture racism and xenophobia. The Obama administration has allowed -- under the counsel of DHS secretary Napolitano -- this fever to strengthen. Now they are left with a metaphorical dilemma: Either sever a pox-ridden limb (Arpaio) from the corpus; or once and for all battle the infection to its core.
Whether the Obama-ites have the courage to lance the blisters of this grotesque pandemic remains to be seen.
Phoenix civil rights activist Salvador Reza of the Puente movement alerted me to this letter to the President. Thursday morning, he and others in this struggle will demand that the Department of Homeland Security release -- under the Freedom of Information Act (if that still means anything) all correspondence between the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and ICE/DHS.
The purpose of the request is to discover what back-room wheeling and dealing has been going on between the sheriff and the feds. If DHS and ICE do not cough up the docs, then you can safely assume they have something too hide.