Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio Scores 287(g) Jails Agreement in ICE Announcement, ICE Head Says Arpaio Has No Federal Authority to Continue Sweeps

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency finally made its official announcement today regarding signatories to its controversial 287(g) program, and there were no surprises. Of the 55 new agreements approved by ICE, the Maricopa County Sheriff's office is one. As expected, the MCSO scored a new jails agreement. Its street authority was not renewed.

In all, 55 new agreements were signed nationwide, 12 agreements await approval by the localities involved, six agreements are in negotiations, and six local jurisdictions opted out of the program altogether, including the Houston Police Department and Florida's Brevard County Sheriff's Department.

(You can see the list of participating agencies, here.)

I took part in a press conference call with ICE honcho John Morton this morning. I asked him how he could go forward with a new jails agreement with Sheriff Joe Arpaio considering the fact that serious human rights abuses have occurred in Arpaio's jails, and by 287(g)-trained officers, no less. Morton said he would not comment on my characterization of the MCSO's jails, but that ICE had decided to go forward with a jails agreement because it allowed for the removal of criminal aliens.

However, Arpaio's field enforcement was a different story.

"We ultimately determined that his sweeps were not consistent with our priorities," Morton stated.

I followed up by pointing out that Arpaio was doing a sweep today, even though his 287(g) field powers had been denied him by ICE. How could he sign an agreement with someone who's already announced he'll abrogate it? Morton countered that he didn't want to get into a "philosophical" argument with me over the MCSO and the jails agreement.

I informed Morton that there was nothing "philosophical" about people who've suffered physical abuse at the hands of Arpaio's 287(g)-trained deputies, and that there was nothing "philosophical" about American citizens who have been detained by the MCSO, with ICE holds placed on them.

Morton went on to say there would be ICE oversight in the jails, that ICE expected local agencies to pursue charges to their completion, and that ICE was only interested in aliens who had committed serious criminal offenses. ICE will also sign off on "each and every charging document," he insisted. Thing is, many of those identified as aliens in Arpaio's jails are there because of the low-level state felony of using a forged I.D. -- you know, the same thing college kids use to buy beer (and, if caught, often get off scot free).

A reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times got in a good question about whether or not Arpaio has federal authority to continue his immigrant-hunting dragnets. Morton replied that Arpaio did not, though there were state laws he could act under.

"The only explicit grant of federal law [would be] under 287(g) and the task force," Morton indicated -- in other words, in the street authority that Arpaio's just been denied.

Morton's a bureaucrat. He can afford to shrug off the broken arms and busted jaws of those who end up in Arpaio's inhumane incarceration complex, one that has lost its national accreditation, that has been denounced by Amnesty International, and has helped bring on lawsuit payouts totaling more than $43 million against the sheriff's office.

But in doing so, he partners the Obama administration with a scoundrel who's referred to all Mexican immigrants as "dirty," and made several other bigoted statements on the record. Now this man who has referred to all of DHS as "liars," and who has crowed openly about "fooling" ICE's representatives, has federal license to continue terrorizing brown people in his jails. 

ICE has been informing many local politicos that they had to sign the agreement because they don't have the resources to take over the functions of MCSO's 287(g)-deputies. If ICE lacks those resources, how will it implement this "oversight" Morton speaks of?

The previous Memorandum of Agreement Arpaio signed under the Bush administration also included supposed checks on possible abuses by the MCSO. Yet these were never enforced by ICE. ICE is so hungry for numbers -- warm bodies that count toward its total number of aliens removed -- that human and civil rights become a luxury the agency is very willing to do without.

I would have expected such complicity with human suffering and outright corruption from the Bush administration. From the Obama administration, it's a bucket of ice water to the face, one that comes with the realization that for all its high-flown rhetoric, the administration itself is a nest of hypocrites.

In denying Arpaio street authority under 287(g), ICE loses nothing, because Arpaio never collars large numbers of the undocumented in the sweeps. The jails are where the bodies are, and where the abuses take place. And it's in the jails that ICE remains. 

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