Arpaio-gate Investigation Grasping at Straws

By Jessica M. Vaughan on October 23, 2009

The Obama administration investigation of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration enforcement program is starting to look a little futile. A federal source revealed today that more than 40 percent of the 500-plus arrests made in Sheriff Joe's crime suppression operations were in fact "serious" criminals of the kind Janet Napolitano claims to want help from local law enforcement agencies in identifying. This is actually a higher proportion of "serious" offenders than in many other 287(g) jurisdictions. So why has Sheriff Joe been singled out?

DHS spokesman Matt Chandler was quoted in Wednesday's Politico as follows: "[DHS] decided to terminate the Task Force Model in Maricopa County because the agency believes Maricopa County Sheriff's Office sweeps do not align with ICE priorities to arrest, detain and remove serious criminal aliens .... The success of the Task Force model relies on cooperation and coordination with local law-enforcement partners. MCSO has been unwilling to coordinate with local jurisdictions while continuing to flaunt a disregard for [DHS] priorities."

A federal government source who is very familiar with Arpaio's 287(g) program says that, in fact, more than 40 percent of the offenders arrested by Arpaio's task force deputies were Level 1 and Level 2 offenders, which are considered top priority for ICE to remove. Level 1 and Level 2 offenses are drug offenses; or violent offenses such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, kidnapping; and property offenses such as burglary, larceny, fraud, and money laundering.

Few, if any, other 287(g) agencies with investigative or task force immigration authority have such a high proportion of "serious" criminal arrests, according to data collected for our forthcoming report on 287(g). For example, the Prince William County (Va.) task force reported 33 percent of its arrests were serious offenders, Tulsa County, Okla. reported 30 percent, and Colorado State Patrol reported 12 percent. Some of ICE's other criminal alien identification programs identify even lower numbers of serious offenders.

The point is not that too few "serious" criminals are identified in these programs ("serious" offenders are a small share of criminals overall, immigrant or otherwise), but that the reasons given by DHS for terminating Arpaio's criminal investigation program look more specious every day.

The Justice Department investigation into Arpaio's program has taken a turn toward the silly too. Former Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth has reported that five DOJ civil rights staffers were caught impersonating reporters at Arpaio's press conference the previous Friday, October 16. According to a sheriff's officer quoted by Hayworth, all but one of the group (Je Yon Jung, a senior DOJ civil rights trial attorney) refused to provide ID at the event, but were later outed. DOJ has not revealed how this undercover operation might contribute to the racial profiling investigation.