Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio Re-signs 287(g) Jails Agreement, According to Sources; ICE Vague on Specifics (w/Update)

Sources are telling me tonight that Joe Arpaio will soon announce that he has signed a new jails agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one that will continue to allow ICE to partner with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in identifying and removing so-called criminal aliens from MCSO custody.

The agreement -- supposedly under the new language of the 287(g) agreements announced by the Department of Homeland Security in July -- would not cover Arpaio's entire 160 deputy 287(g)-trained force, according to my sources. The fate of the remainder of Arpaio's immigrant-hunting force is unknown at this time. (Most 287(g) deputies do not work the jails.) Even if Arpaio loses some of his 287(g) authority, he could still engage in Hispanic-hunting sweeps under state law.

I ran the matter past ICE spokesperson Vinnie Picard, who could only offer the following vague statement.

"ICE will review all of the new 287g Agreements at the conclusion of the 90 days," Picard wrote me via e-mail. "Until then, we cannot comment on pending agreements."

(Apparently, according to some of the unnamed sources I'm speaking with, Joe dropped dime to one of his favorite reporters at the Arizona Republic to grant him the "scoop" on the new agreement. So keep an eye on the Rep to see what they regurgitate from Arpaio's gullet in coming days.)

That 90 day stopwatch began ticking either on July 10 when the announcement was made, or shortly thereafter. Since then, the MCSO, DHS, ICE and the pro-immigration activists have been engaged in a weird square-dance. Privately some activists have told me they'd like to see Arpaio re-signed under a new 287(g) agreement because Arpaio serves as an effective whipping boy for the movement, allowing them to demonize the entire program by using Arpaio as an example of its pitfalls.

I believe local ICE folks would like to keep their access to Joe's jails and their partnership with the MCSO so they can continue to increase the numbers of criminal aliens collared. Yet, Arpaio has become a large liability for the Obama administration, a sort of creepy, racist holdover from the Bush administration, which originally signed the MCSO to a 287(g) agreement, allowing specially trained MCSO deputies to enforce federal immigration law.

Indeed, I think it's because Arpaio remains the poster-boy for 287(g) that pro-immigration activists have scored such big wins of late -- an August letter signed by 521 organizations calling on President Obama to scuttle the 287(g) program, and then this week, a letter from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus demanding the same.

Could it be that Arpaio is playing the pretzel, outmaneuvering ICE and DHS by signing the jails agreement and daring them to abrogate it in some manner? DHS and ICE wanted Arpaio to walk away from the agreement. If he refuses to do so, they risk thunder on the right if they cut him loose, and thunder on the left if they allow any part of the status quo to remain.

More as the story develops...Any new agreement will have to be OK'd by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. I'm hearing that the MCSO may push for BOS approval on Wednesday of the coming week.

UPDATE 10/3/2009 7:51 AM: As anticipated above, JJ Hensley at the Republic has reported that Arpaio's whining about losing his 287(g) street authority in the new agreement he says he's signed with ICE. If this situation is as Arpaio depicts it, it's only half the game for the activists. Though it will curtail the federal authority he uses in sweeps, 287(g) officers would remain in the jails, and it is in the jails that many of the MCSO's abuses against otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants have taken place.

Though Arpaio's sweeps have terrorized Hispanic communities in Maricopa County, they have never been a very efficient means of collaring illegal immigrants. The Phoenix Police Department routinely nabs as many in one drop house bust as Arpaio typically does in an entire two or three day dragnet. ICE has always been more concerned about having a 287(g) program in Arpaio's jail system, which is the repository for all of the county's arrests, not just those done by MCSO.

Will the activists take the half loaf and declare victory? I suspect the county Board of Supervisors will simply rubber-stamp any new agreement concerning the jails. And if the activists make no stink over a new jails agreement, the feds may continue to work with Arpaio.

However, in the jails, immigrants have regularly been intimidated and sometimes physically abused in order to get them to cooperate with investigators or sign voluntary removals from the U.S. One woman had her arm broken, another, her jaw busted, to make them comply. Such abuses might continue under any agreement that maintains status quo in Arpaio's notorious gulags.

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