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Sheriff Joe Arpaio challenges march in Washington with largest crackdown on undocumented in Arizona

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By Eduardo Barraza, Barriozona Magazine Editor, Race-Talk contributor

As thousands travel to the nation’s capital to push immigration reform, in Maricopa County the sheriff’s department is launching a massive, county-wide operation to arrest undocumented immigrants.

Phoenix, Arizona, March 18, 2010 - As tens of thousands of people prepare to attend a multitudinous march in Washington, D.C. this weekend, in Arizona the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) is launching the largest operation to date to crackdown undocumented immigration.

In a press release, the MCSO announced today its 14th “crime suppression” operation to take place in Maricopa County since March 2008, when the sheriff began a systematic series of operations targeted to arrest individuals who are not authorized to be in the country.

Hundreds of civic organizations and activists are heading to the nation’s capital to demand the White House and Congress the passage of an immigration reform that would allow millions to regularize their legal status.

Organizers are disappointed and frustrated at President Barack Obama for what they perceive as a failure to keep his campaign promise to work, during the first year of his Administration, on legalizing millions of individuals who lack legal documents but live, work or attend schools in the United States.

The mass mobilization is projecting thousands of people to show up in Washington this Sunday, March 21, and is seeking to pressure the government to move the prospect of an immigration reform from the back burner to the forefront of the political agenda.

In Arizona, however, Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio is launching a county-wide operation that, according to the press release, is mobilizing more than 400 personnel, including —for the first time— patrol deputies who have received internal training to enforce immigration laws, as well as a number of volunteer posse and reserves. The operation will also utilize MCSO’s air posse and a helicopter, according to the document.

DEFIANT Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has take federal law into his own hands by providing internal training to 900 sworn deputies to enforce immigration on the streets of his jurisdiction. Photo by Eduardo Barraza/BARRIOZONA

Sheriff Arpaio has been highly criticized by human rights, community and faith organizations for conducting this type of operations which have led to many accusations of racial profiling and the consequent lawsuits against the MCSO.

Nevertheless, the tough stance Sheriff Arpaio has taken on undocumented immigration has been praised by others and earned him local and even national support. In November 2008 Arpaio was reelected for a fifth term, having easily defeated his main opponent, Dan Saban.

Aside the immigration debate issue, the sheriff has been in the midst of controversy, lawsuits and an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) removed in October 2009 his delegated authority to use the 287 (g) program to enforce immigration laws during his street operations, but allowed him to keep his authority to screen inmates in the jails to
verify if they are legally or not in the country.

The 287 (g) is a federal program that allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detect and report undocumented immigrants suspects.

Defying the federal government, Arpaio ordered the entirety of his sworn deputies to receive in-house training to apply immigration laws as they conduct their activities. According to the press release, this move is in response to the DHS’ decision to remove federal authority from the original 100 deputies that were trained by ICE.

The 13 previous two-day crime suppression operations —according to the Sheriff— have resulted in a reported total of 728 arrests. MCSO claims some legal U.S. residents have been arrested during these operations but of the 728 total arrests, the sheriff said 530 were later determined to be in the country without legal documents.

In the past operations, the MCSO has only targeted specific areas within Maricopa County. Publicized as a “crime suppression” tactic, these operations have been evidently focused on arresting immigrants. This new two-day operation to take place on March 18 and 19 will, according to the MCSO, include the whole county, located in the south-central part of Arizona and with a population of about 4 million.

The sheriff modus operandi consists in flooding areas with a demographic concentration of Latinos and immigrants, patrolling the streets, and stopping motorists mainly for non-moving traffic violations, such as a broken windshield or tail light. According to MCSO’s reported numbers, about 37,000 undocumented individuals have been investigated, arrested, or detained by enforcing federal and state
immigration laws.

It is unknown if this Sunday’s march will prompt the Obama Administration and Congress to take definite and clear steps to address the immigration standoff. Previous marches around the country since 2006 have failed to persuade a majority of politicians and a large segment of the U.S. population to allow a program to legalize the millions who live without authorization in the country.

Many people have come to believe that these large pro-immigration demonstrations caused a backslash that had an opposite effect to the intended by organizers.

The larger effect of massive demonstrations like this Sunday’s will be tested again, and more precisely, afterwards, when people return home and either see a government’s determined action or their efforts limited only to a symbolic effect.

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Eduardo BarrazaHe is a multimedia journalist with over two decades of experience. When he began his career, he specialized in photojournalism working for various newspapers and magazines. Later, he established an international journalistic service that provided stories and photographs to publications in Mexico and the United States. Seeking to take his experience to a deeper level, Barraza founded the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues in 1998, which has evolved since then into a grassroots multimedia publishing agency, focusing on social issues affecting Latinos and other minorities. In 2002, he founded Barriozona Magazine, a bilingual print publication that in 2006 developed into an E-zine to reach a greater audience. Barraza is also the author of the book titled “The Shoes of the Immigrant and Other Writings”. As journalism continues to progress and is reinventing itself, Barraza has tapped into the use of digital resources to reinforce the power of a press that presents the voice of the people as opposed to “being the voice” of the people. As he sees new challenges arise for journalism, Barraza strives to uphold the true tenants of his beloved profession, among them truth, objectivity, and independence.