Raid Expected in Phoenix Raises Questions About Local Enforcement of Immigration Laws

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A demonstration against Arpaio in Phoenix in June 2009.

A demonstration in Phoenix against Arpaio in June 2009.

PHOENIX, Arizona — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio claims he doesn’t need permission from the federal government to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

And today he plans an immigration raid to prove it.

The raid, expected later today in an undisclosed location, raises questions about how far local authorities can go when it comes to enforcing federal laws against illegal immigration. It could also test when and if the federal government is willing to intervene when local authorities step beyond their jurisdiction in enforcing immigration laws.

Arpaio announced the raid last week, shortly after he signed a new proposed agreement with the federal government that limits his immigration enforcement authorization.

The Department of Homeland Security was expected to make an announcement about the future of the agreement, known as 287(g), by the end of this week.

“I still can use the state laws to arrest illegal aliens,” said the sheriff who announced he would be willing to drive undocumented immigrants to the border if federal authorities didn’t take them in custody. Earlier in the week he said the decision to cancel the existing 287(g) agreement that allows his deputies to arrest undocumented immigrants on the street was “political.”

Arpaio can still use the Arizona employer sanctions law and identity theft law to conduct raids at workplaces. A state human smuggling law has allowed him to incarcerate migrants who hire smugglers to cross the border.

Legal observers and a team of volunteers will be watching closely and filming traffic stops conducted by sheriff’s deputies today. Civil rights advocates are concerned the sweep could involve racial profiling and the violation of people’s rights.

“He’s having a media show at the expense of innocent people,” said Lydia Guzmán, president of the pro-immigrant coalition Somos América. Guzmán, also the director of Respect/Respeto, said they’ll be taking phone calls from immigrant families on a hotline to provide legal assistance in the event they are unlawfully detained.

Organizers with the PUENTE movement in Arizona are heading an immigration march today to press the federal government to put a stop to Arpaio’s practices.

These groups claim the real story is not that Arpaio will be holding an immigration raid without the power to do it, but the role of the federal government in renewing part of the agreement.

“Joe Arpaio, and not the Obama Administration, is currently defining immigration policy in Maricopa County, and it is a national disgrace,” said Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Daniel Ortega, a civil rights attorney in Arizona, said the sheriff is trying to push the envelope to see how far he can go in his immigration crackdown. But that will open him up to new lawsuits, said the attorney.

Arpaio has claimed that he doesn’t need to have an agreement with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws.

Arpaio is currently facing a lawsuit claiming racial profiling brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of a U.S. citizen and a permanent legal resident who were detained outside a landscaping business and held for hours.

In July, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced changes to all 287(g) agreements nationally, saying her department wants to focus on the detection and apprehension of immigrants with criminal records.

DHS gave all 66 participating agencies a 90-day period to review the new contracts and sign them.

The federal government provided Arpaio with a new contract authorizing him only to enforce immigration laws in the county jails.

But pro-immigrant rights groups argue this is alarming because of the number of allegations of abuse within Arpaio’s jails.

In one prominent case, Alejandra Alvarez, an immigrant woman, was detained in a landscaping company raid by sheriff’s deputies for working with fake documents. Her jaw was allegedly broken during the arrest. After three months in jail, she complained that she didn’t receive proper medical care for her injury.

“Renewing this, would be like stabbing the Mexican, Latino community in the back on behalf of the Obama administration,” said Salvador Reza, organizer for the PUENTE movement.

Marina Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, said she’s disappointed that Arpaio continues to raid Latino communities and separate families.

“I want to know who is going to stop him,” said Rivera.

Arpaio has said the greatest impact of what he calls “crime suppression sweeps” is not in the number of people arrested but in the fear created in immigrant communities.

The vast majority of undocumented migrants detected through the 287(g) program in Maricopa County come to Arpaio’s jails transported by other local agencies. Since 2007, some 33,000 immigrants have been detected within his jails. Neighborhood sweeps have led to the apprehension of about 300 undocumented immigrants.

AboutValeria Fernández
Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist from Uruguay with more than a 14 years experience as a bilingual documentary producer and reporter on Arizona’s immigrant community and the US-Mexico borderlands. She co-directed and produced "Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies that aired in Al Jazeera America. Her work as reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico broadcast in PBS, San Diego and won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting in 2016. She freelances for a number of print, digital and broadcast media outlets, including Feet in 2 Worlds, CNN Español, Radio Bilingue, PRI's Global Nation, Al Jazeera, and Discovery Spanish.