New York Times Editorial
Oct 11, 2009
All last week the people of Phoenix witnessed public outbursts by their sheriff, Joe Arpaio, as he railed against the Department of Homeland Security for supposedly trying to limit his ability to enforce federal immigration laws. He vowed to keep scouring Maricopa County for people whose clothing, accents and behavior betrayed them as likely illegal immigrants. He said he had already nabbed more than 32,000 people that way, and announced his next immigrant sweep for Oct. 16.
The spectacle raises two critical questions that the Obama administration is in danger of getting wrong.
One is the specific question of whether the federal government should keep Sheriff Arpaio in its 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents in street patrols and in jails. The answer is absolutely not. Sheriff Arpaio has a long, ugly record of abusing and humiliating inmates. His scandal-ridden desert jails have lost accreditation and are notorious places of cruelty and injury. His indiscriminate neighborhood raids use minor infractions like broken taillights as pretexts for mass immigration arrests.
To the broader question of whether federal immigration enforcement should be outsourced en masse in the first place, the answer again is no.
It was only days ago that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano unveiled a plan to repair the rotting immigration detention system. The Bush administration had outsourced the job to state, local and private jailers, with terrible results: inadequate supervision, appalling conditions, injuries and deaths.
Ms. Napolitano wants to centralize federal control over the system that handles detainees. But she insists on continuing to outsource and expand the flawed machinery that catches them, including 287(g) and a system of jailhouse fingerprint checks called Secure Communities, which increase the likelihood that local enforcers will abuse their authority and undermine the law.
Rather than broadening the reach of law enforcement, using local police can cause immigrant crime victims to fear the police and divert the police from fighting crime. It leads to racial profiling, to Latino citizens and legal residents being asked for their papers. Responsible sheriffs and police chiefs across the country have looked at 287(g) and said no thanks.
Programs like 287(g) rest on the dishonest premise that illegal immigrants are a vast criminal threat. But only a small percentage are dangerous felons. The vast majority are those whom President Obama has vowed to help get right with the law, by paying fines and earning citizenship. Treating the majority of illegal immigrants as potential Americans, not a criminal horde, is the right response to the problem.
Read @ New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/opinion/12mon2.html