JANUARY 22, 2010
Amid a Justice Department racial profiling investigation and colossal protests by Latino rights advocates, a top Obama immigration official is defending an Arizona program that once allowed a county sheriff to arrest illegal aliens.
The immigration sweeps, conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, have apprehended dozens of illegal immigrants with criminal records and vastly improved the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area by restoring law and order in a large business district rife with solicitation, trespassing, loitering and public health ordinance violations created by day laborers.
The operations were conducted under a local-federal partnership—known as 287(g)—that trains police officers nationwide to enforce immigration laws. The program has been effective in drastically reducing violent crime in local communities and aiding in the deportation of thousands of criminal illegal aliens who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department is the biggest law enforcement agency to participate in 287(g) and the elected official who runs it, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has come under fire from politically-connected La Raza groups that have pressured the feds to investigate the sheriff for racial profiling and violating the constitutional rights of illegal immigrants.
The Justice Department has taken the task seriously, even bringing back deported illegal aliens to the U.S. to be witnesses against Maricopa deputies. The feds claim they must take every step to investigate the serious allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures on the part of officers and their elected leader. In October the Maricopa Sheriff’s Department was stripped of its immigration enforcement authority.
Now the high-ranking U.S. immigration official responsible for the move is defending the sheriff and his effective crime sweeps. During a large weekend march to protest the immigration crackdowns, the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (John Morton) said there was no evidence of racial profiling by deputies in Maricopa County and that the majority of the illegal immigrants arrested have been convicted of serious crimes.
"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," Morton said during a meeting with editors of a local newspaper. The assistant secretary added that the Maricopa program has been consistent with meeting his agency’s priority of arresting illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.
Yet the agency, caving into political pressure, refused to renew the sheriff’s contract to continue the immigration enforcement program. It was baffling considering the Department of Homeland Security had previously praised the enforcement operation, including in a 2008 federal audit that determined it was “excellent” and that the conduct and performance of deputies was professional and meeting the program’s requirements.
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