BY MARISA FRANCO
Despite the fact that political winds are blowing away from Arizona-style attrition politics, some officials in that state are determined to keep their tent staked in the ground, by hook or by crook. For those living under the shadow of Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio, looking at federal immigration reform comes with a specific perspective and particular issues to be resolved.
When asked what his favorite song is, Arpaio immediately snaps back, ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra. One can see why. Even as Congress crafts proposals to reform our immigration system, which will possibly include some form of legalization, a well-oiled deportation machine continues to churn in Arizona. Through interlocking departments, it criminalizes and deports the very people who stand to benefit from that same legislation. For such reform to be meaningful, it must improve the lives of the people of Maricopa County and reign in the immigration and law enforcement actions that were once considered rogue and now look as if they’re taking root system-wide.
Last week Sheriff Arpaio’s “Criminal Employment Squad” descended upon America’s Taco Shop, a local restaurant in Phoenix. His deputies arrested 11 people cooking in the kitchen and waiting tables. Those workers now join the victims of the 71 other raids the Sheriff has carried out since 2008.
“My fiancé told me not to go to work that day, it was the day before our wedding,” Ivon Diáz, explained in an interview, “I told him that I was already on the schedule and couldn’t miss. It was a routine day at work, I reminded my coworkers about the wedding. Sheriff’s deputies walked in, and I didn’t think anything of it because they ate there often. They checked the restrooms and positioned themselves at the doors. Suddenly I saw the kitchen staff come into the front of the restaurant. They told us to sit down and put our hands on our head. I knew then that something was very wrong.”
Ivon was arrested that day and spent three months in the Sheriff’s custody and one month in an ICE detention facility. Before Arpaio’s raid she had no previous criminal record or contact with immigration authorities. Instead of being able to apply for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Ivon, who is now 24 years old, now faces the decision of whether or not to follow ICE’s order to leave the country voluntarily. Her case foreshadows what is to come for the workers arrested last week, and demonstrates the workings of Arizona’s deportation machine.
The squad of officers that arrested her that day were formed after the passage of the Legal Arizona Workers Act and near the same time as when then Governor Janet Napolitano helped bring the Sheriff federal immigration authority under the 287(g) program.
After the raids, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office takes over. ICE trained County Attorney Bill Montgomery proceeds to slap workers with multiple counts of forgery and identity theft, which, classified as Class 4 felonies and, if found guilty, are punishable by several years in prison. Undocumented people charged with a felony have no right to bond in Arizona. In this case, it means an automatic minimum of three months in jail. This leads many to turn to a plea deal as their only remaining option. And instead of making pleas based on circumstances of the case and history of the individual being charged, Bill Montgomery’s office uniformly offers one count, Felony 6. Most workers take that offer. And there’s the rub. What they may not know is that that charge will virtually guarantee their deportation. The game is rigged.
The conveyor belt leads directly to ICE. While the President promotes the idea of prioritized enforcement and positions himself to be a champion for reform, his enforcement agency is moving in the opposite direction. Even after the Department of Justice reported that Sheriff Arpaio’s practices represented the worst racial profiling investigators had personally witnessed and exposed that his raids were a central tactic of discriminatory enforcement, ICE put together a training for the County prosecutors to up-charge raid victims to guarantee their criminalization and prevent them from being eligible for anything but deportation. Some, like Ivon, pay a hefty bond and fight their deportation out of custody. But whether inside or outside of detention, the felony conviction will seal the fate of many. When ICE says they’re deporting ‘criminals’ they’re talking about people like Ivon. They’re talking about Miguel Venegas and Ivone Criollo-Gutierrez, both of whom were arrested during a recent raid Sportex factory.
And when an immigration reform bill drops and potentially lists those with criminal records as excluded from adjusting their immigration status, think carefully about what that means when people like Sheriff Arpaio operate with impunity and when ICE functions with an annual deportation quota. Maricopa County has been a laboratory for anti-immigrant policies for a long time. It also serves as litmus test for the significance of immigration reform. An approach that leaves the deportation machine intact cannot be considered either comprehensive or humane.
Rather than exclude these families, immediate action should be taken and a final bill should contain steps to include them and to dismantle the deportation machine that’s been built in Arizona and across the country, specifically:
- Grant immediate deferred action to the victims of Arpaio’s raids.
- Disregard criminal charges and convictions in determining discretion or eligibility for inclusion in states where local law enforcement, state legislatures, or prosecutors utilize discriminatory laws or local practices in conjunction with federal immigration enforcement.
- Sever access to ICE in jurisdictions where local law enforcement is under investigation for civil rights violations or where states are being sued by the Department of Justice.
- Build firewalls between ICE and the criminal justice system so that ICE’s quota is not a consideration in a prosecutor’s office or in a bail hearing.
In the meantime, families and community organizations in Phoenix are doing their best to accomplish what they’ve been calling on President Obama to do since 2008; put the brakes on the deportation crisis. After many years of suffering in silence, after so many have already gone, the community is realizing more and more that the only secure community is an organized one. The deportation crisis is driving families to come out of the shadows, shadows that have brought so much suffering. And as ‘My Way’ plays far off in the offices of Arpaio and his counterparts in Washington, community members pledge to rally to a different tune. They will protect one another. Children are compelled to advocate for the release of their parents. Petitions are circulated. ICE has become a weekly place of activism. Their efforts will only grow from here. Like the saying goes, “Si no por las buenas, por las malas.” By any means necessary.
Photo Credit: Diane Ovalle