U.S. House 287(g) Hearings: Mesa Police Chief George Gascon Says 287(g) in Some Cases Sets "the Police Profession Back to the 1950s"

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After the second panel of witnesses was seated and introduced, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren cited the Southern Poverty Law Center letter about witness Kris Kobach mentioned in my first live blog. She said she had decided to allow Kobach to speak, but noted the SPLC's objection.

The first speaker was David Harris, professor of law at University of Pittsburgh. He talked about the wedge driven between law enforcement and undocumented residents because of 287(g), as it makes immigrants afraid to talk to police about crime in their communities, and that this endangers us all. He also talked about the inevitability, almost, of racial profiling under the 287(g) program.

Second up was Hubert Williams, Police Foundation president, who stated that among illegal immigrants, the crime rate is five times lower than in the general population. He insisted that police need to balance responsibilities in law enforcement with protecting civil liberties, and that there needs to be trust between the police and the immigrant community. 

Speaking from prepared statement, Mesa Police Chief George Gascon discussed the negative impact of the 287(g) program on community policing.

"Increased political pressure on local law enforcement to reduce undocumented immigration coupled with the federal deputation of local police to enforce federal immigration statutes is jeopardizing sound and well-established policing practices," warned Gascon.

"The Constitutional concerns created by the current state of affairs should be troubling to all of us," he continued. "In some cases, it is setting the police profession back to the 1950s and 60s, when police officers were some times viewed in minority communities as the enemy."

His statement also included more than one veiled swipe at Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

"Often poorly conceived and politically motivated enforcement efforts are placing officers in harm's way," stated Gascon, "leading to accusations of police misconduct."

Congresswoman Lofgren cited the Goldwater Institute's study on the MCSO, in directing a query toward Gascon. Lofgren asked the chief about the MCSO's raid on the Mesa City Hall and the city's library.

Gascon talked first about Arpaio's sweep in Mesa, harshly criticizing the sheriff for "paying back a political favor" by going into Mesa. He talked about the lack of communication with the MCSO over its raid on the Mesa library, which targeted a cleaning staff of suspected illegal aliens. He descibed the video of the raid, with "large numbers of sheriff's officers in tactical gear storming two buildings." 

Lofgren asked if Gascon could send the committee the footage. He said he would look into it. He also told about having to provide security for protesters, both pro and con, as the sheriff's troops swept Mesa last year for undocumented dishwashers, maids, and cooks.

Republican Arizona Congressman Trent Franks came to Arpaio's defense, calling criticism of the sheriff a "witchhunt" that's actually aimed at America's immigration policies. He said Arpaio had personally assured him that he was not racially profiling, and he commended Arpaio for trying to enforce the law. He repeated some stats about 33 percent of those in Arpaio's jails being illegal, and 53 percent of all violent crime being caused by illegal immigrants. Those numbers sound bogus, and made me wonder if Franks get them from Arpaio's office. 

Congressman Jerrold Nadler called out controversial Kris Kobach, law professor and shill for Nativists, for something he had said in his testimony about the SPLC's letter.

"Never in my life have I heard the SPLC called a `spurious institution,'" said Nadler, warning Kobach not to interrupt him. He praised the SPLC's work, and told Kobach if they did not like what the SPLC said about him, "You can sue them if you want."

Congressman Lofgren asked Gascon about Trent Franks' "statistics" about illegal immigrants and crime in Maricopa County. Gascon said as far as Mesa was concerned, 9 to 10 percent of the people arrested are undocumented, and that the Hispanic population in Mesa is far greater than that. 

The committee then took a break for a vote, and will be back shortly.

(Phoenix New Times' special reports section on Joe Arpaio has all the background on Maricopa County's sheriff.) 

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