About 50 protesters from groups such as Puente and the newly formed LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona) demonstrated against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as she spoke at ASU Thursday night at the John P. Frank Memorial Lecture.
Carrying signs that read, "Janet Stop Joe Arpaio, End 287(g) Now," and "Napolitano Complicit with Arpaio's Crimes," the feisty band marched in circles round the entrance to music hall where Napolitano was addressing a receptive crowd of students and professors.
Detail of Cuauhtlatohuac's sign
Chanting "Shame on Janet" and "287(g), No," the activists contended that the Obama administration's lip service to immigration reform was undercut by two factors: Napolitano's quiet cooperation with Arpaio in his ongoing sweeps and raids in Maricopa County's Hispanic community; and increased enforcement efforts across the country by the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of DHS.
"We're protesting not only Janet, but the entire administration," explained Carlos Garcia of Puente. "The administration promised immigration reform. Not only did they not come through with that promise, but they've continued even more enforcement than the previous administration."
Garcia pointed out that though ICE has rescinded Arpaio's 287(g) street authority -- the federal grant of power that lets local cops act as immigration agents -- ICE has allowed Arpaio to keep 287(g) in his vast incarceration complex, where prisoners from his ongoing anti-immigrant dragnets are kept.
ICE also continues to pick up non-criminal undocumented persons netted in the sweeps, which persist despite Arpaio's loss of 287(g) and despite a year-long investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into civil rights abuses by the sheriff's office.
"We know that everything Arpaio does is not only with the blessing, but with the permission of Napolitano and the administration," insisted Garcia.
As the cries of the protesters echoed on campus, inside Napolitano delivered an address focused mostly on balancing national security and individual rights. However, immigration did come up, especially in the question-and-answer section of the program.
With questions submitted from the audience in writing and vetted by ASU President Michael Crow, Napolitano was asked when the administration would finally seek passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Napolitano noted the administration's support of a bipartisan proposal by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. But she conceded that the proposal was only in the talking stage, and would have to await other measures that have been on hold until healthcare reform was "off the decks," as it is now.
"The president has reiterated," said Napolitano, "that he definitely has on his mind, on his radar, getting a pathway forward to getting federal legislation on immigration through. How that gets done, what day, month, whatever, no one can say."
To his credit, Crow pressed Napolitano on the Dream Act, which he said he and a coalition of other university presidents support. At that point, a large group of Hispanic students rose to the applause of the crowd, many holding signs that read, "Dream Act."
But, once again, Napolitano made no promises, other than to say the administration was committed to CIR and had to keep "pushing" until it got such legislation "over the finish line."
The most dubious of Napolitano's replies had to do with the Obama administration's "enforcement strategy," which she characterized, thus:
"We have really prioritized the deportation of those in the country illegally, who have also been committing other crimes, those who have committed violent crimes, property crimes, drug trafficking crimes, and the like...those deportations in the last year are up almost 20 percent."
Fifty-seven percent of those rousted through the Criminal Alien Program had no criminal record. And 65 percent of those referred to ICE through the 287(g) program were noncriminals. Of those who had convictions in ICE custody, only 11 percent were for class one violent crimes.
So the mantra often repeated by DHS and ICE officials that they are focusing on criminal aliens is highly disingenuous, to say the least.
Napolitano was applauded at the conclusion of the event. But outside, Puente's Garcia had a promise for the DHS secretary.
"Anywhere Janet Napolitano goes in this country, we're going to try to organize a demonstration," he told me. "We know that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and people like him can't do what they're doing and continue to terrorize our communities without Janet Napolitano."