Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Flacks Are Right About One Thing: ICE Honcho John Morton Is a Colossal Hypocrite

Sheriff Arpaio's flacks are usually full of it, churning out press release after press release with the sole purpose of puffing up Joe's jowly profile for the public. 

But once in a blue billy goat, they actually make a point, as was done with the January 21, 2010 press release, "Sheriff Arpaio Perplexed by ICE Secretary's Statement."

It reads, in part,

Published reports today indicate that [ICE head John] Morton is actually defending Arpaio's 287(g) program in the Sheriff's jails where already over 274,000 people have been investigated by Sheriff's officers. Over 31,000 of those investigated have been identified as being in the country illegally making them ineligible for release into the streets of our community. Morton says that local law enforcement "cannot turn a blind eye to people who are here illegally even if they have no criminal record."

Morton's statements are a bit perplexing to Sheriff Arpaio given that it is Morton's agency that was responsible for partially dismantling Arpaio's 287G program when he took away the authority of over 100 deputies to enforce illegal immigration laws by acting as immigration agents on the street of Maricopa County.

Indeed, Morton did defend ICE's continued jails partnership with the MCSO in recent statements to the Arizona Republic. Though ICE axed Arpaio's 287(g) street authority last year, the agency maintained the 287(g) program in the county jails, where some 60-plus federally-trained MCSO thugs are empowered to inquire after arrestees' nationality and intimidate the undocumented into signing voluntary removal forms, allowing ICE to quickly boot them from the U.S.

ICE is desperate to keep 287(g) in Arpaio's vast incarceration complex. In fact, before Arpaio signed on to 287(g) in 2007, that's all ICE wanted. Arpaio held out until ICE granted him 287(g) field authority; i.e., the power to instigate anti-immigrant sweeps. ICE finally gave in, authorizing the largest force of 287(g) officers in the nation. 

In making this deal with El Diablo, ICE gave Arpaio carte blanche to profile based on race and ethnicity, to target Hispanics and deprive them of their constitutional rights. In essence, ICE aided and abetted the MCSO in alleged violations of federal law, violations that are still being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Up until the shift in administrations, ICE insisted that the MCSO was in compliance with the first Memorandum of Agreement the two agencies had signed. Such prevarications were obvious then, but are even more plain in hindsight.

As long as ICE and Arpaio work together in the jails, they share responsibility for the civil and human rights violations that occur therein. Arpaio, of course, could give a javelina's snout for the conditions in his medieval holding facilities, where pregnant women are shackled, mothers have their arms broken or their jaws busted, and where inmates often die from neglect or beat-downs.

Condemned by Amnesty International, Joe's jails have lacked national accreditation since 2008. Still, ICE persists in its buddy-program with MCSO facilities, where it's alleged 287(g) officers have been involved in the abuse of some prisoners ultimately turned over to ICE. In a couple of high profile cases, ICE refused to accept the MCSO's damaged goods and cut loose aliens with claims of mistreatment at the hands of MCSO gendarmes.

Yet, Morton wants all of the warm bodies ICE can harvest from Arpaio's inhumane jails. So, when questioned as to why ICE continues 287(g) in county lockup -- a question prompted by the 10,000-plus anti-Arpaio protesters in the streets two weeks ago -- Morton claimed that,

"Sixty nine percent of the people we receive in Maricopa County have been convicted of Level 1 and Level 2 offenses, which are serious felony offenses, drug trafficking, assaults, rape..."

Pardon me if I'm a little skeptical of such numbers until I see their source. I've asked local ICE spokesman Vinnie Picard for a breakdown of these numbers, which he says ICE has been keeping since October. 

But even if we swallow Morton's 69 percent figure, what about the other 31 percent, who're guilty of no major state or federal violations? These are simply mothers, fathers, homemakers and workers. They are not criminals.

And yet, ICE treats them the same. On the one hand, Morton says ICE can't turn a blind eye to these petty violators. On the other hand, he asserts that ICE is focusing on serious offenders. The latter assertion, however, is little more than face-saving federal propaganda.

In response to reports in the New York Times concerning the attempts of ICE employees to spin or outright deceive the press and others looking into any of the 107 deaths that have occurred in ICE custody since 2003, Morton's now announced an overhaul of immigration detention facilities to supposedly increase oversight and ameliorate barbaric conditions.

The fact Morton defends an institution as indefensible as the MCSO's gulags should tell you how serious he is. If Morton does not want to look like a complete hypocrite, he could start by ending the 287(g) in Arpaio's jails. 

ICE's professional justifiers will tell you that ICE can still pick up the undocumented through the Arizona-based LEAR program. And the agency can still identify criminal aliens through ICE's Secure Communities program

If true, there then should be no impediment to ICE's suspension of Joe's jails agreement. In October, I participated in a media conference call with Morton, confronting him with the abuses in Joe's jails. Morton downplayed such concerns as being "philosophical."

Tell it to the shackled pregnant inmates, Morton. Tell it to the woman whose arm was broken by 287(g) goons, to the mother whose jaw was busted by MCSO deputies, to the parents torn from their children, treated like brigands and held non-bondable because their skin is brown. Tell it to the American citizens murdered in Arpaio's custody. 

These people are flesh and bone, not philosophical concepts. Let's hope they keep you awake at night. Assuming you have more than a bureaucrat's conscience.