Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio is facing a class action suit that accuses him of racism in law enforcement. Omar Jadwat is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs. Last week, Jadwat explained what’s at stake in the Arpaio case and what difference the Arizona suit might make. But is the Maricopa County sheriff the only problem where discrimination by law enforcement is concerned? Far from it. Another nasty piece of the immigration picture is the federal law that permits officers like Arpaio to serve as immigration agents in the first place. Unfortunately, as Jadwat says, “the federal government is not going to sue itself.” Indeed. Watch. The transcript of our entire conversation is below:
Omar Jadwat: For sure. I can tell you about our plaintiffs, the Rodriguez family, who were out on a recreational area on a recreation vehicle having fun together with other people. They are US citizens and they were pulled over, nobody else was pulled over and the police officer asked them for identification. David Rodriguez supplied his license and registration and the officer said that wasn’t good enough, that what he had to actually do was produce a Social Security card, other things that the officer thought would be sufficient to prove that he was an official US resident. The idea that US citizens—who are not required to generally carry any kind of national identification—would be singled out on the basis of their race and required to produce more and more personal identification and information just to satisfy a police officer who has no business enforcing immigration law in the first place is, you know, the kind of thing that we’re trying to focus on in this case to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
What does this have to do with the Supreme Court decision on [Arizona’s “papers, please” law] SB 1070?
What happened with the Supreme Court case on 1070 is that even though the Court struck down most of the provisions of the law that were up in front of the Supreme Court, it said for now it wasn’t going to strike down a fourth provision, which was the “show me your papers” provision of the law, which would allow police to layer a degree of immigration investigation on top of ordinary criminal stops and arrests and investigations.
The Court, I want to be clear, did not say that that provision was okay, but it said that on the record right now it wasn’t prepared to strike the law down, and so there are ongoing challenged to SB1070, and one of the key things that I think links these two is that we see when they passed SB1070, there was an explicit desire to protect and mandate statewide Sheriff Joe’s practices in Maricopa County, to try to make all of the police officers in Arizona to act that way. And we knew that even when SB1070 was passed that what Sheriff Joe was doing when he was doing immigration enforcement was racially profiling people. So the key here is, I think, is that we’re demonstrating what we already knew which was that Sheriff Joe engages in racial profiling by making him by law the model that all of the other Arizona enforcement entities would have to follow. You know that’s really an attempt to mandate racial profiling across the state.
I was in Georgia  where a similar law to 1070 was passed and what it meant for all sorts of people of color is that being stopped for speeding or having a back light out—if you don’t have your papers with you or the investigating authority is skeptical of your papers—-can result in being held in custody for extended periods of time, potentially even losing your children. Is there anything in your case that could change any of that, as long as 1070 is still in place?
Well, one thing to be clear about is that SB1070—none of the most problematic provisions of SB1070 have gone into effect yet. Even now after the Supreme Court has ruled, there’s still a period of time and we are fighting very hard to make sure that the remaining “show me your papers” provision will never go into effect.
Now what’s true is what we see in the Ortega case as we’ve seen in other places (in Georgia as well, the law is suspended), we see there are officers who take themselves to be immigration agents and profile people and hold them without cause and try to punish them on the basis of what they perceive their status is, even without these laws. So I want to be clear that even if we get rid of SB1070 in its entirety and in the other states, that won’t be the end of the fight… We also need to make sure that these laws don’t make it worse by imposing this kind of burden on officers, statewide, making good officers into bad ones.
I think that one of the things that’s really interesting is that we see a lot of police officials nationwide speak out against laws like SB1070; law enforcement [officers] in Arizona and in the rest of the country, saying this is not the way that we want to be doing our policing, that it’s not a good idea to require police to act as immigration agents. They are concerned (just as we are) about what will happen. We’ve seen in Maricopa County itself that actually Sheriff Joe was so obsessed with profiling, scapegoating and targeting communities, that he’s actually neglected his duty to enforce the criminal laws, and that’s a real tragedy.
Something like 400 sex abuse cases were sitting there uninvestigated?
Felony warrants that haven’t been served, you know, all kinds of problems.
Your case gets to the heart of this question of how are the laws being implemented. That is not just a matter of 1070, but also, it seems to me, the problematic federal law 287G, under which sheriffs’ deputies are deputized to work for the federal government on immigration. Why has all the attention been on 1070?
Section 287G is a section is the immigration law that allows the federal government to deputize state or local officers as immigration agents for various purposes. This was a program that for many years after it was first enacted the federal government said, We don’t want to do that, it’s not a good idea, it’s not what we need to be doing with our resources, making these people into immigration agents.
The Bush administration towards the end quite aggressively started pursuing these 287G agreements with law enforcement agencies around the country, and those agreements have continued in effect and there’s actually been a few new ones in the Obama administration.
287G is the most formal cooperation agreement, but there’s also other programs that try to enlist state and local police immigration enforcement. There’s something called “Secure Communities” (S.COM) and there are some other programs as well.
I think what we see is—you’re right to perceive some of the same problems with 287G and S.COM that there are with SB1070 and the laws in Georgia, Alabama and these other places—the basic mistake is making local police into immigration agents, because as police have told us repeatedly, you can’t determine by looking at someone or not whether they are what you would call an illegal alien, but in general there’s not a way to systematically put these laws into effect without relying on people’s skin color, ethnicity, the way they speak, all of these things that we really don’t want police to be doing. And so I think that very much is part of the fight but obviously the federal government isn’t going to sue itself over 287G, and that’s an element that hasn’t been…court-challenged to the same degree, but that is obviously an area of real concern.
If your case comes out the way that your plaintiffs want it to what will it lead to? Will it lead to challenges of that kind of practice?
Well, I think there are two cases here that we’ve been talking about. There’s the profiling case against Joe Arpaio, the Ortega case and there’s the SB1070 challenge, and I think they do kind of fit together in a certain way. I think the Arpaio case is really important in terms of demonstrating to people in a very visceral way with real stories told in court, witnesses testifying about the real cost, the real human cost across the state and across any state where you would try to do something like this of, again, making police immigration agents. The way that US citizens, lawful residents, the families suffer, the way that policing gets twisted and distorted. In fact we have had a chance to look through some of Sheriff Joe’s files and we see that one of the ways he decided which neighborhood to target for these immigration sweeps that he did was based on patently racist e-mails that were coming in and letters that were coming in from people in the community saying that there are too many Mexicans in this neighborhood, you’ve really got to do this sweep. So to see that that’s the kind of corruption of an agency that should be there to protect us all, I think it’s really important to see, to have documented the kinds of problems that really do result from SB1070 and the other laws that are trying to be put into place.
Have you been to Arizona?
I’ve been a few times.
What was the most surprising thing to you; having seen the documents on paper—the most surpising thing about actually being there?
The really distressing thing is the degree to which entire communities feel like a target’s been painted on their backs. And it’s not people who are here illegally who are the only people concerned. It really is a broad section of the community. People who feel like because I’m Latino, because I’m Asian, I’m going to be singled out by the police. I have to worry every time I get in my car (which in Arizona you do all of the time). Every time I get in my car to go somewhere or get on my bicycle to ride around the neighborhood, I have to worry about whether I have to prove to some officer’s satisfaction whether I am here legally. The sense that creates in really trying to drive a wedge into the community, the divisiveness of these policies is really I think striking when you arrive and when you see it. That’s why in our suit against SB1070 we’re really trying to make sure we’re going to keep trying over and over as long as we have to, to make sure that law doesn’t go into effect and that the fear communities feel, hopefully they’ll be able to put that fear aside and participate one again as full members of the community.