Controversial Arizona Sheriff Stripped of Authority to Conduct Immigration Screening

Joe ArpaioAdvocates for fair and reasonable treatment of immigrants had cause to celebrate last month in Arizona. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been a controversial figure in the national immigration debate for some time, but his office received a blow from the federal government last month after a report announced evidence of discriminatory and even unconstitutional conduct. The Department of Justice (DOJ) notified the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) on December 15, 2011 that it had to reach a voluntary agreement to cease practices of racial profiling and discrimination against Spanish-speaking detainees, or it would face a lawsuit for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moved much more quickly, almost immediately revoking MCSO’s authority to screen the immigration status of inmates in the county jails. Federal immigration authorities will handle that task for now.

Arpaio has been the subject of multiple investigations and inquiries in recent years, many directly related to how the MCSO handles immigration investigations and treats suspected undocumented immigrants. The DOJ began an investigation several years ago into allegations of discrimination and racial profiling, culminating in its December 2011 announcement. During the investigation, the DOJ threatened to sue the MCSO to compel its cooperation. Numerous lawsuits by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and by individuals detained by the MCSO allege discriminatory or abusive acts.

A 2011 lawsuit, as one example, alleges that the MCSO kept a woman shackled during and after her delivery of a child by Caesarean section, causing injury and violating her rights. Authorities may have also violated state policies against shackling women in labor. The alleged incident occurred in 2009 after she had pleaded guilty to a forgery-related offense. She claims that guards at the jail ignored her cries for help because she was speaking Spanish. She had to find someone to translate for her.

The decision by DHS means that MCSO will have have full access to federal immigration databases under the Secure Communities program. Secure Communities is a program spearheaded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of DHS, allowing local law enforcement to cooperate more easily with federal immigration officials by sharing information regarding detainees’ immigration status and criminal records. The program is part of a policy of the Obama administration to focus immigration enforcement efforts on individuals with criminal records and those who pose a clear threat to public safety or national security.

Arizona has already been at the center of much of the nation’s immigration controversy because of its expansive law passed in 2010, which empowers, and sometimes requires, state and local law enforcement to look into detainees’ immigration status if they suspect the person might be undocumented. The actions of the MCSO under Sheriff Arpaio have compounded the controversy, causing great concern for both immigrants and those who advocate for them.

The United States immigration system is often complicated and confusing. For a free and confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer, contact Gus Shihab online or at 877-479-4USA (4872) today.

More Blog Posts:

Missing Dallas Teen accidentally Deported to Colombia despite being a U.S. Citizen, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, January 7, 2012
Arizona Sheriff Arpaio Mistreats Pregnant Mexican Foreign National Inmate, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, December 30, 2011
Supreme Court Will Consider Controversial Immigration Law, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, December 15, 2011
Photo credit: Joe Arpaio by Gage Skidmore, on Flickr.