Joe Arpaio's "First Amendment Rights" Defended by Janet Napolitano

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In a speech today before the Center for American Progress, the think-tank that essentially acts as the Obama administration's gray matter, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke about comprehensive immigration reform, mostly from a law-enforcement perspective. Afterwards, Napolitano fielded questions about her old Arizona political ally Sheriff Joe Arpaio, even going so far as to defend his freedom of speech.

"I'm not here to curtail any sheriff's First Amendment rights to say whatever they want to say," Napolitano responded when asked by a reporter from the Orange County Register if she would do anything regarding Arpaio's boast that he will continue to enforce immigration law, even without 287(g) authority in the streets.

You'll recall that ICE recently stripped Arpaio of his federal 287(g) authority in the field, the authority he used to bolster sweeps of immigrant communities in Maricopa County. But ICE let him keep it in the jails.

Nappy then evaded the question by yammering on about ICE's "secure communities" program, which checks the immigration status of everyone booked into participating jails. The OC Register reporter stayed on her case, however, asking if Napolitano was going to do anything to stop Arpaio's raids and sweeps, since ICE no longer does those sort of operations, for the most part.

"Well, the Department of Justice is actually looking into those raids from a civil rights perspective," replied Napolitano. "And I think it's fair to say that I do not believe that raids are the most effective way to conduct law enforcement except from a media perspective."

Of course, the media perspective is the only one that matters to Arpaio. Napolitano continued, stating that there are other sorts of law enforcement things you can do if "you're really focused on public safety." And we all know how committed Arpaio is to public safety.

"He is acting under Arizona state law," Napolitano offered of Joe's sweeps,"not under federal law at this point. He has an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, but that is only with respect to identifying illegal aliens that are in his jail."

In an interview with ThinkProgress.org, a video blog that lists itself as "a project of the Canter for American Progress Action Fund," Napolitano was again queried about Arpaio and 287(g). She pointed out that there was a jail model and a street, or "task force" model.

"The jail model has never been an issue with Sheriff Joe," she said. "That operates as it does in the other jurisdictions that have it."

Tell it to Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez, the mother of three whose arm was broken while she was in the custody of the sheriff's office, as 287(g)-trained deputies forced her fingerprint onto an ICE document. Or to Celia Alejandra Alvarez-Herrera. She's the woman who got her jaw busted by sheriff's deputies in an immigration raid, and who went three weeks in pain until she finally was allowed to see a health care provider. Even then, all they gave her for her jaw was ibuprofen.

And that's not to mention the stack of dead bodies that have come out of Arpaio's gulags over the years, victims of the gendarmes within. Napolitano's very aware of those deaths, particularly the infamous Scott Norberg case, because she punted on it back when she was U.S. Attorney for Arizona and had a chance to hold Arpaio accountable. Instead, she forged a political alliance with the sheriff, one that's been mutually beneficial. Until now.

But I digress. Back to the ThinkProgress video, where Napolitano went on with her dissection of why things didn't work out with Sheriff Joe as far as 287(g) in the streets.

"It is the task force model that has been problematic," said Napolitano. "And he was unwilling to accept that there were standards that needed to be met."

But if Arpaio isn't up to par on the streets, why allow him to continue with 287(g) in the jails, particularly when those jails have been and continue to be the sight of persistent human and civil rights abuses?

During the speech, Napolitano promised that, "into the first part of 2010, we will see [immigration reform] legislation begin to move." Only time will tell if the Obama administration holds to that schedule. Till then, the DHS honcho would do better to stop cutting Arpaio slack, and begin to treat him like the civil rights pariah he is. 

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