On February 4, 2009, more than 200 Latino immigrants dressed in black and white prison stripes were shackled and marched through the streets of Phoenix from a county jail to "Tent City," a detainment camp where Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio was segregating immigrants from the general inmate population.
According to Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Watch, marchers were guarded by "at least 50 Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) deputies, wearing body armor and combat fatigues, armed with shotguns and automatic rifles. At least two canine units were present; a Sheriff's Department helicopter hovered overheard."
All this to escort a group in which, for many, their sole crime was lacking documentation.
A History of Racial Profiling and Discrimination
The February march was just the latest in a string of actions by Sheriff Arpaio meant to humiliate immigrants and garner media attention.
In November, the Arizona Republic released data from Arpaio's arrest logs (PDF) of several neighborhood sweeps, which showed that "deputies arrested more Latinos than non-Latinos during each of the operations, even when the patrols were held in mostly White areas."
In January, two of Arpaio's deputies donned ski masks and detained a woman late at night in front of her two children, ages four and six. The woman was ostensibly pulled over for driving without her lights on, then was arrested for having an unpaid parking ticket. Her children had to be picked up by a relative. The woman paid her ticket and was then deported.
When asked about the appropriateness of the arrest, Sheriff Arpaio said, "I believe that the deputies gave teddy bears to the kids, so we did everything we could under those difficult circumstances. On the other hand, it's the mother that was the problem. She was here illegal, she had an outstanding warrant."
Sheriff Arpaio's tactics have not only created a climate of fear, they've also cost Maricopa County money and effective law enforcement. In the past eight years, the county's budget has skyrocketed. Violent crimes, homicides, and response times to 911 calls have also increased.
These actions have not escaped the attention of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) community. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of the UU Congregation of Phoenix wrote: "In Phoenix in particular, crime associated with human and drug trafficking across the border is a reality. Gang activity, assault, murder, robbery and rape are all effects of illegal trafficking across the border and they are serious problems. Unfortunately, Sheriff Arpaio's raids neglect the far more difficult and dangerous work of addressing these criminal elements. Rather, his tactics target people whose only crime is being in this country without papers. He is going after people with few rights, while turning a blind eye to dangerous criminals."
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has remarked that Sheriff Arpaio is creating "a sanctuary county for felons"; Gordon has written to federal officials asking for an investigation of Arpaio.
Gordon is not alone. In the wake of the February 4 march, community members, people of faith, civil rights organizations, and the Congressional House Committee on the Judiciary have called for a federal investigation of Arpaio's actions and a rescinding of the 287(g) agreement that enables Arpaio's terrorizing of immigrants.
Two Eight-Seven What?
Originally, only arms of the federal government, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, were able to regulate and enforce immigration. The Immigration and Nationality Act passed under President Clinton in 1996 changed that practice. Section 287(g) of the Act made it possible for the Secretary of Homeland Security to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies which permit officers to enforce immigration laws during their regular, daily law enforcement activities.
As the U.S. broken immigration policy has led to a larger population of undocumented persons "living in the shadows," some local and state law enforcement members have attempted to solve the problem by partnering with the Department of Homeland Security through 287(g).
Such an effort can create mistrust between immigrant communities and law enforcers. Undocumented members of the community and their family refrain from reporting crimes because they worry that they'll put themselves or their loved ones at risk of deportation. Even when law officers assure communities that deportation won't occur, fear often overrides their assurances; furthermore, such a program can also contribute to racial profiling.
What Can I Do?
According to data from ICE, there are currently 63 active Memorandums of Agreements that authorize 287(g) programs. Check ICE's page on delegation of immigration authority for a complete list and more information about the program.
In Phoenix, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, community groups and congregations are organizing against Arpaio.
There are several ways that Unitarian Universalists across the country can help: