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Racial Profiling, Republican Candidates, and Rights Violations: the Immigration Debate at Year's End

Sheriff Joe Arpaio isn't the only one keeping immigration policy in the headlines--here's a look at the stories that made news as 2011 drew to a close.


The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive  In These Times weekly updates.


President Obama promised immigration reform within his first 100 days in office, but needless to say that didn’t happen. Now immigration is yet again a hot election issue—in the Republican presidential primary race, and surely in the general election after that.

Several of the Republican candidates have surprisingly moderate records and/or positions on immigration, but they are trying to obscure this in order to cater to hardcore anti-immigrant voters or generally come off as extremely conservative. Ironically a hardline anti-immigration message is out of step with the majority of Americans across the political spectrum, according to an  analysis of five recent polls by the Center for American Progress.

Meanwhile, draconian immigration enforcement policies are increasingly under siege, with the federal civil rights violation allegations against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the police department in  East Haven, Conn.; economic and social stress in  Alabama following the state’s imposition of an extreme anti-immigrant law; and the news that many U.S. citizens have been detained—in some cases for up to a year—under the highly controversial Secure Communities federal program. And of course, last month Arizona voters  recalled State Senate President Russell Pearce, chief architect of the state's infamous SB 1070 anti-immigration law.

While racial profiling of immigrants in East Haven has not been high-profile nationally until now, the Justice Department charges against Arpaio confirm what local officials and advocates have long been saying—that the Maricopa County sheriff's department flagrantly racially profiles Latinos, and that Latinos suffer civil rights and human rights abuses and discrimination in county detention.The department is also investigating alleged sex crimes in Arpaio's jails.

On a press call last week, Center for American Progress Action Fund immigration policy and advocacy director Angela Kelley noted that Arpaio has endorsed Republican candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, and also praised Mitt Romney. She said:

It does appear that Sheriff Arpaio's rein of terror is on its last legs, something that we applaud...We know Arpaio isn't a stranger to politics...There are very close ties between Arpaio and the leading Republican candidates.

As it issued the  report, the Justice Department revoked the state’s 287(g) program deputizing police with immigration enforcement powers. A grand jury investigation is continuing, and if Arpaio doesn’t enter a settlement with the Justice Department to turn his office around, a federal lawsuit and takeover of the department would likely ensue.

Arpaio has until January 4 to announce his  intent. He has countered that he is the victim of civil rights abuses by protesters, who he said are "demonstrating in front of my building, calling me every kind of name."

In 1997, the Justice Department entered a settlement with Arpaio over civil rights violations in Maricopa County jails; but at the time Arpaio defiantly promised that nothing would change…and critics and federal officials say that indeed little or nothing has.

In a statement on the recent DOJ report, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D) said:

Sheriff Arpaio believes physical appearance is probable cause to stop and question individuals about their immigration status. Even after a Department of Justice investigation has told him otherwise, he continues to believe there’s no issue here.

There’s nothing fair, equal or constitutional about racial profiling. His obsessive, politically motivated assault on Hispanics has destroyed public trust in his office and put innocent lives in danger. Federal law enforcement officials are right to name his failed tenure for what it is, and I hope he takes the honorable route by resigning immediately.

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