Monday, March 30, 2009

Arpaio Superstar

Joe Arpaio is the Sheriff of Arizona’s Macopa County. He is famous because of his hard-core stand against undocumented immigration. His critics argue that his actions are based on racial profiling. In April 2008, the Mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon, requested a Civil Rights Investigation to the Attorney General of the United States. The request is based on “Sheriff Arpaio’s pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches, and arrests.” More recently, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a new civil rights investigation of Macopa County Sheriff Office for unconstitutional searches and arrests, and discrimination on citizens based on national origin.

The actions of Arpaio have been firmly documented by the East Valley Tribune in the investigation "Reasonable Doubt." The main argument of the newspaper investigation is that since the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) started to work as an “immigration agency” in March 2006, there has been slower response times on emergency calls, a dropping arrest rate, and sporadic excessive overtime costs. Moreover, the Goldwater Institute, in a Policy Report (December 2008), concluded that the Sheriff’s Office has failed to fulfill its core mission in the areas of providing law-enforcement, support and detention services. This is, the report finds that “MCSO’s effectiveness has been compromised for the past several years by misplaced priorities that have diverted it from its mission.” The report also details all the trouble that the MCSO is currently going through by giving priority to its immigration enforcement efforts (instead of addressing basic law-enforcement functions): violent crime rates soaring, financial crisis of the office, accumulation of a “huge backlog” of outstanding warrants, costly lawsuits for excessive use of force and inadequate medical services in the MCSO’s detention facilities, “chronically poor record-keeping and reporting of statistics, coupled to resistance to public disclosure,” etc.

In addition to all this mess, Sheriff Arpaio loves public attention. He even has his own TV reality show: Smile ... You're Under Arrest! , which is labeled by FOX as “original, inventive, unique and funny.” Sheriff Arpaio also likes to answer any type of questions from any type of media and he displays an incredible array of arrogance and cynicism whenever his actions are questioned. I mean, you can see that the guy enjoys liberal media like nobody else. In a recent interview in NOW (PBS, March 2009), Arpaio interrupts the interviewer at will, states that he does not care whatever the East Valley Tribune has to say (even if what the newspapers says is based on data from his own office), labels the Goldwater policy report as “garbage,” contradicts himself several times; and, when cornered by the interviewer, he graciously launches phrases like “nothing is ever perfect in law enforcement,” “just take my word for it,” or “I don’t like statistics.”

How come that Arpaio is now a Superstar? The answer has three components. First, Arpaio has been reelected by 55% of the vote in his county in 2008. So, he has the support of the majority in his jurisdiction, he backs his actions on the legitimacy that the popular vote gives to his mandate. Anti-Hispanic/immigrant sentiments by a majority of white (mostly non-Hispanic) population is not an uncommon aspect of Southern border states, indeed, it is an historical fact which started to develop in the region right after Mexico lost the 1848 War. Second, the core of Arpaio’s actions is backed by the Bush administration’s failed efforts to deal with the immigration issue: ICE partnered with MCSO in early 2007 as part of the 287(g) program (named after the section of federal law that created the program). The 287(g) program allows ICE-trained local officers to act as federal agents in terms of enforcing immigration laws. Last, and certainly not least, the usual suspect: the media. As long as Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly keep on praising Arpaio’s crusade or the FOX network keep on supporting his reality show, for example, the stature of this and other characters will keep on growing in terms of popularity.

Good news is that this is America. The Obama administration has the opportunity to show that the president means what he says by putting aside programs like the 287(g) and working with the legislative branch in implementing a comprehensive plan to deal with undocumented immigration at a federal level. Less reality shows and more getting real on the matter. Lawsuits are sending strong signs to other local law enforcement and governmental entities about the financial consequences of diverting scarce resources to tasks that are no priority in their basic law-enforcement commitments. Also, it is good news that there is a relatively well consolidated informal network of news coverage personalities that have proved capable in making their point on the issue: Jorge Ramos, Geraldo Rivera, Maria Hinojosa, Malín Falu, etc. All this, of course, in addition to daily broadcasts by el famoso Piolín de la Mañana and other radio activists across the nation and to the fact that responsible citizens, like Stephen Lemons in his blog Feathered Bastard, have followed closely the doings of el Compadre Arpaio...

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