2007 Retrospective: The Local War on the Undocumented
north america / mexico |
migration / racism |
Tuesday February 19, 2008 10:49 by sally darity
Arizona has seen an increasingly unfriendly environment for undocumented immigrants, with the threat of raids, violence, and repression.
“It's just crazy here.” This is what I tell people who are not from Phoenix, Arizona, the political climate surrounding immigration is like. It's hard to sum up, but having kept up fairly well with local immigration news for the past couple years, I can reflect on 2007 and the direction that things have gone. We have seen ever-increasing repression against undocumented immigrants. In some ways we saw this coming. In other ways, we have been surprised. Overall, things changed gradually enough that it wouldn't necessarily be perceived as an onslaught, though putting it into perspective by looking back at 2007 as a whole might make it hard to be seen otherwise.
Arizona has seen an increasingly unfriendly environment for undocumented immigrants, with the threat of raids, violence, and repression. Within a short time, a select number of officers from different police departments with jurisdiction in Maricopa County were trained to enforce immigration laws. Some agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were deputized as well, giving dual jurisdiction to an increasing number of officials. Immigration law began to be enforced in the jails and prisons as well. The efficiency gained by these changes to enforce immigration laws is likely part of the plan set forth by the Office of Detention and Removal, part of Homeland Security. This plan, which provides strategies to “remove all removable aliens” by 2012 is called Endgame.
The year started out on the heels of a raid on workers of meat-packing plants covering six states, the largest of its kind in the U.S. at that time. On January 23, 2007, a southern California raid that nearly matched that, consisted of arrests of 761 people from countries all across the world. At that time, raids were mostly part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) “Operation Return to Sender” which purported to target undocumented immigrants who were criminals- those who were known to be involved in specific illegal activities, such as identity theft, or having committed serious crimes, were deported and came back into the states. However, on January 24, a Baltimore raid targeted day laborers, which may not have been the first time ICE targeted people looking for work, but nonetheless, seems to show a general shift in focus from enforcing immigration law for removing serious criminals to enforcement that targets undocumented workers in general. We must also not forget that especially the first few years after 9/11, 2001, immigration enforcement was promoted as a way to deal with terrorists, but has since, like I said, shifted focus.
More than 235 people died crossing the border in 2007. A study came out in the beginning of the year that put the blame on border security for the 20-fold increase in migrant deaths since 1990. The article states that the Binational Migration Institute conducted the study that showed the "funnel effect" of causing immigrants to cross the Arizona desert contributed to a great increase in deaths. According to Arizona Indymedia, “In 2007 the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office had to open a new building in order to cope with the volume of remains being recovered. While the majority of deaths occurred as the result of exposure to the elements, an increasing number resulted from trauma, including gunshot wounds. In spite of this humanitarian crisis, which Arizona human rights groups such as the Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths argue is a direct result of the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, border militarization and internal enforcement continue to grow.”
A series of shootings against undocumented immigrants around Arizona started 2007 on a bad foot. Immigrants were shot on January 27 in Eloy, Arizona, by four men in military-style berets and camouflage clothing. Described as three white men and one Hispanic man who spoke limited Spanish, they shot on 12 undocumented immigrants and the driver. One man was injured in the leg and the driver, apparently a citizen, was killed. About a week later, near Sasabe, undocumented immigrants were robbed at gunpoint by masked men. The next day, north west of Tucson, two men and a fifteen year-old girl, in a pick-up truck with 7-8 survivors, were killed by gunfire from another truck. The Tucson Citizen printed an article a few days later about hate crimes in Arizona, saying "Law enforcement officials blame rival immigrant smugglers for last week's violence against illegal immigrants. But others say the anti-illegal immigrant hatred saturating southern Arizona cannot be discounted. At the very least, it enables these crimes to occur." Indeed, undocumented people are being robbed, held for ransom, assaulted, and killed by other undocumented people. All of these issues- even the fact that immigrants die while crossing the desert- are related. They're related because immigrants are seen as exploitable and disposable, and therefore crimes against them can continue. Another attack occurred in Chandler, Arizona on February 22nd. These types of attacks have continued, though perhaps at a lower rate, and they remain mostly unreported by news media.
In February, I read about some efforts to set up a state militia in Arizona. Apparently a number of other states already have similar militias. The idea is that a militia would be able to help the government in emergencies. It's pretty obvious from the article, Security force for state debated, that the focus is on the border. Currently we have the national guard down at the border because governor Napolitano declared a "state of emergency", which the national guard is somehow supposed to fix. Because of the incident where armed people approached the national guard from the Mexico side of the border, forcing the national guard to retreat, some anti-immigrant folks were riled up about some supposed security threat.
Some research into this man, Arizona senator Jack Harper, who's pushing this bill that would create a state militia, shows that he has sponsored a number of bills that would make it harder for undocumented immigrants to live here. The militia bill passed in the legislature, but the governor vetoed it. Of course unofficial militias exist throughout the state (just do an internet search for Arizona militia), and many of these focus on the border. For example, the Cochise Borders Civil Defense Corps is now officially known as Cochise County Militia.
There were several anti-immigrant bills that were introduced in the legislature last year. One would keep immigrants from sending money out of the country if they didn’t pay taxes on that money. Another involved allowing the police to enforce immigration laws, obstacles to registering vehicles, and an appeal to the federal government to make it so children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. are not automatically granted citizenship (which is still in the works). An anti-day-laborer bill would make it a trespassing offense if anyone blocks a public right of way to solicit a job or hire a day laborer.
Some legislators tried to change Arizona's official definition of domestic terrorism. Kirsten Sinema attempted to have the definition of domestic terrorism include border vigilante activity, which backfired when it was rejected and replaced by Russell Pearce with a wording change that would make it “illegal for undocumented persons to protest against a US citizen by an act that threatens, intimidates or results in physical injury to the citizen, to commit a crime against a citizen, or belong to a criminal street gang that protests against citizens.”
None of the laws went into effect except the employer sanctions law, HB2779, which prohibits businesses from knowingly hiring undocumented workers. Businesses would risk their business license if they are found to not comply. Obviously the true target of sanctions is the undocumented worker.
In October, the Arizona Republic covered the racial profiling that was happening even a few months before the employer sanctions law was to go into effect. In late November, the Arizona Republic also carried a story on hundreds of people getting fired due to the employer sanctions law that still had not even gone into effect. Amazingly, completely contradictory information was shared with the public about whether the law would even apply to people who were already employed as we brought in the new year. On November 21st, the Arizona Republic put out a story on the new employee sanctions law only applying to new hires. However, on December 13th, an associated press story in the same newspaper stated the exact opposite of that story and doesn't even make any reference to Pearce's past statements.
There remain various unanswered questions even a month after the law went into effect. Despite the ridiculous lack of clarity around the law and the lawsuits brought against it, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) will be enforcing the new law in this county, which is not at all likely to lessen the controversy around it.
At the beginning of 2007, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was working on his department's ability to enforce immigration laws. He had already been arresting undocumented immigrants and charging them with conspiracy to smuggle themselves. Backed by Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and using a law that aimed at cracking down on human smuggling, the sheriff's officers began in March of 2006 to arrest folks and put them in the jails to either plead guilty or await trial. This was considered a misinterpretation of the law according to its authors, yet the arrests continue. The last count I heard was over 1000. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is one of few sheriffs with a posse, a group of volunteers who have limited training to help enforce some laws. Joe's posse was involved in many of the patrols to catch undocumented immigrants. Some are armed.
By early February, Sheriff Joe got the go-ahead from the County Board of Supervisors for training one hundred and sixty officers to enforce immigration law.
The Arizona Republic article, Deputies may start arresting migrants stated,
"Although the details are still being worked out, Arpaio did not rule out the possibility that deputies could use their expanded authority to question people about their immigration status during traffic stops and infractions as minor as 'spitting on the sidewalk.'
'Any time we come across an enforcement action and we find there are illegals present, then we will put our federal authority hat on and we will arrest them,' Arpaio said. 'I will do anything I can to fight this illegal-immigration problem, and this is one more step.'
A federal official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though, said the intent of the program is not to use the deputies for routine traffic stops, as Arpaio plans. "
I have always found this to be a very significant set of statements. And we shall see how they relate to his actions.
Meanwhile, outside of Maricopa county, in mid-February it was announced that Lake Havasu City Council gave the OK to the police to enforce immigration laws, and the town of Kingman was working on the same thing. Interestingly, around the same time, the East Valley Tribune and other publications printed a story about a study that showed that undocumented folks were less likely to commit crimes than citizens. However, that didn't slow the law enforcement efforts being made. Later, Prescott was also talking about getting a couple officers trained to enforce immigration law as well.
Also in early 2007, Federal immigration enforcement agents started working with Phoenix Police. The Arizona Republic reported:
"Ten full-time Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents joined the Phoenix Police Department to work alongside detectives investigating violent and property crimes.
It's the first time a U.S. city has forged a side-by-side partnership with agents to intensify the fight against the criminal activity related to illegal immigration, including human and drug smuggling, kidnapping and murder."
By late march, a number of Maricopa County Sheriff's officers had been trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), along with Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers. The MCSO officers would be authorized to detain and arrest suspected illegal immigrants both in the jails and on the streets. Later, some Phoenix police officers were trained to enforce immigration laws as well. The news about all these cops getting trained to enforce immigration highly increased concerns about raids. An email about a press conference stated, “Unidos en Arizona, Iglesia Palabra de Vida, Interfaith Worker Justice and the Hispanic Ministry of Faith Lutheran Church, calls on the Bush Administration to order AN IMMEDIATE MORATORIUM on all detentions, deportations, work-raids, employer sanctions, and the use of the 'No Match' letter which result in the separation of families until the passage of just and humane immigration legislation.” But we were reassured by the governor, though not about Arpaio.
“'The DPS is not going to be engaged in roundups,' she said. Napolitano specifically cited the 1997 incident in Chandler where local police, working with federal immigration officers, went after anyone they thought was in this country illegally.
About 400 people were detained — including some U.S. citizens.
'That’s not what they’re going to do,' she said."
In the beginning of March, a workplace raid took place in Tucson by ICE. ABC news reported,
"Federal authorities on Friday raided a construction company accused of hiring illegal immigrants, detaining eight undocumented workers and arresting several other employees. Scores of agents fanned out in Douglas, along the Mexico border, and in Sierra Vista, about 50 miles northwest, in the raid on Sun Dry Wall & Stucco Inc.'s offices, a foreman's home, the home of a suspected counterfeiter and eight work sites...
In Arizona, immigration agents had promised stepped-up examinations of construction, agricultural, landscaping and service-industry businesses in hopes of deterring illegal hiring and lessening the economic incentive for immigrants to illegally cross the border."
Since then, workplace raids in Arizona have been minimal or not reported by mainstream media.
Around late March, an off-duty police officer began patrolling a certain area of Chandler to “write tickets enforcing the no-stopping ordinance, an attempt to discourage day laborers from gathering in the area,” according to an Arizona Republic article, Merchants differ on off-duty cop to restrict day laborers. Also around the same time, the City of Gilbert was considering a change in policy. KTAR reported, “The deportation of three teenagers caught drag racing in Gilbert has sparked a push for a policy to turn over all illegal immigrants caught violating the law to federal authorities. If Gilbert adopts such a policy, it would be the first city in the East Valley to do so.” As far as I can tell, Gilbert did not end up adopting this policy.
At the end of March, it was announced that as part of the new ability of officers to enforce immigration law, the Maricopa County Jails would be checking immigration status on all inmates and possibly have those who are undocumented deported. Around the same time, KVOA Tucson reported that “The federal agency that deports illegal immigrants is scheduled to open its first office inside a [Phoenix] prison later this week in an effort to expedite the deportation process.”
In mid-July, Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced a set of efforts to combat the “immigration problem”, which included a hotline that people could call to report undocumented immigrants. The hotline is believed to be the first in the country, and is printed on the side of some MCSO vehicles. The intent of the hotline was said to gather hard evidence, to go after undocumented immigrants only after having probable cause. This was only one part of the new plan. According to Arizona Republic:
"In another part, about 160 sheriff's deputies, cross-trained to enforce immigration law, will saturate Valley cities and roadways to find and arrest those who are here illegally, the sheriff said. The deputies now have broad powers not only to question people about their immigration status during traffic stops, but also if they commit even a minor infraction, such as littering."
In addition, it was stated in this article that 64 ICE agents would be deputized. The East Valley Tribune reported in August that the Maricopa County Jails now have ICE databases as well, and that the Sheriff banned undocumented immigrants from visiting anyone in jail.
The MCSO stepped up efforts in October, arresting undocumented immigrants across the county in such places as Cave Creek, Queen Creek, Maryvale and Phoenix. The arrests were controversial. According to the Arizona Republic, “Others accuse Arpaio of overstepping the bounds of the agreement with ICE by using federally trained deputies to round up undocumented day laborers and corn vendors. ICE, however, says the sheriff is operating within his rights.” Arpaio also announced his officers would be going after convicted criminals on probation who are undocumented, arresting them at their homes and workplaces.
Sheriff Joe began having people arrested in October in one of the main areas that day laborers have stood for work, near the Home Depot at 36th St. and Thomas in Phoenix. The area had been the site of minuteman protests in 2005 and later where area business-owners got together to hire off-duty police to patrol with the power to issue citations for trespassing and blocking traffic. Roger Sensing, owner of Pruitt's Home Furnishings, led the efforts against those standing on sidewalks looking for work in the area. His business was therefore the target of a boycott in late 2006 that resulted a few weeks later in an apparent agreement between Sensing and a leader in the boycott effort, Salvador Reza, in which Sensing agreed to stop hiring the off-duty cops if Reza would work on getting a day labor center in the area. Whatever the reason, a day labor center was not started in the area, and so day laborers remained standing on sidewalks in the area, although to a lesser degree by that time. Sensing and other business owners met with Sheriff Joe Arpaio to get him to do something about it. Sheriff's deputies arrested ten individuals in mid-October 2007. Reza and others started another boycott and began a weekly protest on Saturdays which lasted till the end of the year.
According to news reports, the Sheriff's officers were apparently stopping people for traffic violations in the area, not targeting people standing on the sidewalks, although it seemed clear that this was an effort to intimidate if not arrest undocumented workers in the area. The arrests, many of which resulted in deportations, continued as weeks went by. Quickly the arrests were framed as a response to the boycott demonstrations and tended to especially take place on Saturdays during protests. The situation was soon becoming ground-zero for the national immigration debate. At the beginning of December, an article with the title, Illegal immigrants arrested at furniture store protest, was printed in the Arizona Republic. Other publications printed similar articles. The interesting thing was that those eight were not part of the protest. They were just in the neighborhood during the protest. Yet the the former article says,
"The eight people arrested Saturday on suspicion of violating immigration laws were the first illegal immigrants taken into custody during the actual protests.
'I thought it was time to do something more about it,' Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. 'The Pruitt's situation is getting out of hand. They are demonstrating every week and destroying this business. I don't think that's fair.'"
Clearly it was intended to look like Sheriff Joe was arresting participants of the protest even though he wasn't. The language of the articles led back to a press release put out by the Sheriff's office.
"SHERIFF'S OFFICE CRACKDOWN CARRIES ON IN MIDST OF PRO-ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION DEMONSTRATION
EIGHT MORE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARRESTED
DURING PROTEST AT PRUITT'S FURNITURE STORE
The ongoing battle between illegal immigrant day laborers, Pruitt’s, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office human smuggling unit resulted in the arrests of eight (8) more illegal aliens today.
The eight illegals were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies under federal immigration law, now bringing the total made to 32 arrests within the six weeks since Sheriff's deputies began patrolling the vicinity of the central Phoenix store, and are the first series of arrests to occur as protesters, for and against illegal alien day laborers, line Thomas Road near 36th Street..."
In less than a week from these arrests, the Sheriff's Office put out another press release prior to the protest. Quoting the sheriff, it said, “This weekend, I will increase the number deputies [sic] to patrol the Pruitt’s area, and I promise that my deputies will arrest all violators of the state and federal immigration laws. I will not give up. All the activists must stop their protest before I stop enforcing the law in that area.” It was clear from this that the sheriff was intentionally enforcing this law to protect a business against free speech. In addition, he was looking to either intimidate people from attending, or to convince anti-immigrant folks that he was taking care of their concerns like the great presidential candidate they think he should be, or both. Either way, he managed to make it appear that he was targeting participants of the demonstrations while not actually getting entangled in a legal battle that would ensue if he did. Legal observers, copwatch, media, and others tried to observe and document as many stops as they could on Saturdays.
Before the end of the year, at least one racial-profiling lawsuit was brought against the MCSO. They pulled over a vehicle driven by a U.S. citizen allegedly for speeding, although no citation was given. The passenger was asked for his identification and presented his passport and other paperwork, which despite its validity, was not enough to keep the police from detaining him for 8 hours. The lawsuit also includes a Hispanic U.S. citizen who was stopped while walking and was also detained. Another lawsuit was in the works this January.
In the middle of all of this, in mid-November, we got a surprise from Sheriff Joe. Arpaio was on Lou Dobb's "Broken Borders" show saying “Well, you know, they call you KKK. They did me. I think it’s an honor, right? It means we’re doing something.” He didn't express that opinion back when it was discovered that an image of Arpaio as a KKK member holding a noose to a migrant's neck was circulating through email. At this point also, a recall effort started against him again, and also controversial was the arrest of the director of the ACLU for allegedly trespassing on the property of Pruitt's furniture store during one of the protests. Even though the charge against Dan Pochoda was simply trespassing, for which most people simply get a citation, he was arrested and brought to jail for 10 hours, and his car was impounded. He has a history of challenging the Sheriff's authority, and it was apparent that Pochoda would not have been arrested if he had not identified his position with the ACLU. This all came shortly after a complicated and more controversial situation involving the a local free paper, the Phoenix New Times.
Meanwhile, down in Tucson in early November, the Tucson Police Department officially stated they would not call ICE to schools and churches after a group of around 100 students protested outside the police department in response to ICE deporting a man whose son was caught with marijuana on his high school campus. The father was deported and the rest of the family was removed voluntarily after they admitted they were in the country illegally.
An article in the November/December edition of Color Lines newsmagazine came out exposing Phoenix as the city with the highest number of shootings by police. This article, titled “Why So High?” detailed the statistics that showed a disproportionate number of shootings against people of color. “Among the 27 cities with more than 250,000 people that tracked victims’ ethnicities during this time, 23 out of 137, or one in six, Hispanic victims of police shootings were killed in Phoenix, although Phoenix had just 6 percent of the total population.” Mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon, dismissed the data and expressed his solid faith in the police to do their jobs correctly and with no racial bias. He soon also came out supporting a change in police policy regarding asking about immigration status.
The Phoenix PD at this point, and for the past 20 or so years, have a "don't ask" policy, which means they don't ask about anyone's immigration status. Now, due to pressures from the anti-immigration/racist elements, the mayor is saying he supports a change in this policy which would allow the police to notify ICE when a suspected undocumented immigrant commits a crime, which insinuates that police would be asking about immigration status. The mayor not only said he supported this change, but a new policy is in the works by a four-man advisory panel. About the change in policy, the mayor said, “As mayor, I have seen our situation escalate to a perilous point. Rhetoric is replacing reason. There's too much hate. It's ugly, it's dangerous, and good people continue to suffer.” The mayor also recently publicly criticized the racism among the anti-immigrant movement. What doesn't make sense is how he imagines the “hate” justifies changing the police policy.
Just before the end of the year, the Scottsdale police also announced they would be asking “for proof of citizenship from every suspect they arrest” as the Arizona Daily Star words it, and calling ICE on those who were suspected of being undocumented. Although this would apparently only affect those who are arrested, it seems problematic that the burden of proof would be on each individual as far as their legal status goes. Conveniently, ICE is better staffed to deal with local calls, according to the same article.
The year 2007 in this region is but a piece of the wider picture of what undocumented immigrants are facing. Things continue to get worse, and we can only expect it to get worse unless more people voice their opposition.