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Arpaio Immigration Authority Still in Dispute

October 27, 2009

PHOENIX - Despite a decision by U.S. Homeland Security to not renew 287(G) authority for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's street-level immigration law enforcement, the sheriff's efforts have continued, and he insists he doesn't need permission from the feds to enforce the law. 287(G) is a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act which allows the federal government to give local law enforcement bodies some authority to enforce immigration law.

The director of the Border Action Network, Jennifer Allen, acknowledges that a 2002 Justice Department opinion and scattered court rulings might indeed give Arpaio inherent authority to enforce immigration law, but she says the sheriff's methods have another problem: They're unconstitutional.

"Constitutional rights apply to everyone in this country, regardless of their immigration status. An officer still needs to have probable cause to be able to stop people and question them. And there are still protections against unreasonable search and seizure, regardless of the immigration status."

Allen says Sheriff Arpaio's neighborhood sweeps also create the perception that his deputies are engaged in racial profiling.

"Targeting people that he thinks are going to be undocumented because of the neighborhood that they live in, because of the language that they speak; none of those are sufficient criteria to be threatening them with arrest and then putting them into deportation proceedings."

Allen says Sheriff Arpaio should be concentrating on serious criminals, instead of people with cracked windshields or broken tail lights.

"We need law enforcement agencies that have the resources and the focus to be able to fight crime and uphold public safety. Using immigration as a tool drives a wedge in our community."

She says Arpaio's tactics actually make it tougher to fight serious crime, by promoting fear and discouraging cooperation with law enforcement.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ