East Valley Tribune‘s Ryan Gabrielson and independent journalist Valeria Fernandez talk about the U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Jose Cardenas: Good evening, and thank you for joining us. The U.S. Justice Department has launched add civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County sheriff's office and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's controversial immigration sweeps. Joining me to talk about this and troubles facing Sheriff Arpaio are journalists Valeria Fernandez and Ryan Gabrielson, reporter of the "East Valley Tribune." Thank you for joining us once again on "Horizonte." There's news for both of you, Valeria you're now freelancing as I understand it and Ryan, and you got a great award that was announced. Tell us about that, the George Polk award.
Ryan Gabrielson: It's a national award that honors what they call sort of the best journalism print and T.V. and documentaries, so it's handed out by the Long Island University in Brooklyn. So we get to go to New York in a month to be honored for our work. It's very humbling; it's been a wonderful experience.
Jose Cardenas: And you're being honored for the investigative piece, the five-day series that we talked about the last time you were on the show, concerning Sheriff Arpaio.
Ryan Gabrielson: In July we published a six-month investigation that we conducted of the sheriff's office, its immigration and enforcement operations and the impact those operations had on all of the other police work. It included the details about how their operations, the way they conducted them violated federal civil rights regulations that were meant to prevent racial profiling, and also they nearly bankrupted the sheriff's office when they were conducting these massive operations was hundreds of people, they -- spending millions of dollars. And they're continuing to spend money, but they've reined it back. Most significantly their regular police duties were failing. They would ignore numerous violent crime cases, their response times were surging, their arrest rates had plummeted. We took quite a bit of time and work to get those out, but it's always nice to be recognized for your work.
Jose Cardenas: Well congratulations on your recognition. And the Department of Justice investigation seems to be basically the same kinds of allegations that were covered in this series.
Ryan Gabrielson: Exactly. They're the exact same -- the investigation of the Justice Department is just getting started on is one component of our investigation. Has the sheriff's office conducted its immigration enforcement in a way that violates federal civil rights laws? And so they're going to be spending a known amount of time digging into the details of how the sheriff's office does and has in the past conducted these operations, whether they have had the -- whether they meet the standards and how they conduct them, that this federal government sets out with the idea of protecting people's civil rights. Such as, you can't launch a major sweep in a Hispanic neighborhood without clear definable evidence of criminal activity. The sheriff's office doesn't even claim to have had that. A number of the sweeps they did in 2007 and 2008, they say they worry more about what their public, the county residents, want rather than what the federal government requires.
Jose Cardenas: Now Valeria, you've done a lot of your own investigation, recently the republic ran a story saying that experts, people familiar with these investigations, think it may all come to nothing, maybe a mild slap on the hand. Based upon your investigations, what do you think will come from this?
Valeria Fernandez: We have to keep in mind that what the D.O.J. is starting is a civil investigation. This is not a criminal investigation. So from my interviews with experts, what's coming out is what probably will go down to some sort of agreement, certain things that the office of the sheriff will have to agree to adjust. But we still don't know what's going to open up from this investigation. I mean, they may find things, they may find misconduct on the part of deputies, things of that sort. There's also lawsuits that are in play, and there's cases -- we have -- there's a recent case of a woman who was allegedly bitten and broke her arm.
Jose Cardenas: This was about a week ago.
Valeria Fernandez: And these cases keep coming up. And I think with the D.O.J. investigation, what we're seeing is that people are feeling more comfortable to come out and tell the story.
Jose Cardenas: I want to come back to that story in particular, but before we do, there are other investigations that have been launched, and I want a sense from you how they tie together. You've got Congress, which had already launched an investigation of its own, and there's a review of the 287G agreement under which sheriff Arpaio says he's pursuing the tactics that he's engaged in.
Valeria Fernandez: Certainly. There was -- there were a couple of things that were initiated last year. There was an F.B.I. investigation; you have I.C.E. conducting an investigation over the agreement, and the government accountability office that recently released a report. Now, what happens with I.C.E. is that they're not making public their findings. What we have with the F.B.I. is -- I'm thinking the D.O.J. is going to overlap with that now, their investigation. And the government accountability office, what they find out is very interesting. Basically they found out that I.C.E. wasn't conducting enough oversight of the use of 287G program. So there's not a way to measure whether -- how successful they are, and it's somewhat unclear the agreement are unclear on their focus. So there was, I don't know if you wanted to say something, but there was a concern whether or not law enforcement agencies could deviate from the goal of arresting criminals going to immigration --
Ryan Gabrielson: The D.A.O. is essentially saying oversight of the program by I.C.E. is not much more than a blind eye. They've really let the partners determine in most cases what type of operations they do, how they carry them out and get reports back afterwards, but even when those reports come back with, hey, we've made traffic stops using 287 G authority based on the occupants of a vehicle, based on the characteristics of the occupants of the vehicle, I.C.E. takes no action.
Jose Cardenas: And we had Matthew Allen on this show a few months ago to talk about the investigation. He described it as more of a routine audit of the agreement with the sheriff. And I know it hasn't been published yet, but he indicated they had found no problems, and they were perfectly happy with the performance of the sheriff under the agreement.
Ryan Gabrielson: They have consistently said that's the case regardless of the fact that have been presented. There is no doubt the sheriff's office is doing federal immigration enforcement or has been doing, using his 287G powers for the 160 officers out in the field, they're making traffic stops and they're making apprehensions using under federal law, with not enforcing state laws; which is what they've tried to say to argue that the sheriff is in compliance. They say he's only enforcing state laws; we have a human smuggling law, employer sanctions. It's in the reports that the sheriff's office is using their 287G authority to make apprehensions, and there are no other charges. There are no state charges.
Jose Cardenas: What you read in the paper is the sheriff justifying the workplace raids, for example, as enforcing employer sanctions, or identity theft statutes.
Ryan Gabrielson: They say those are part of employer sanctions investigations. There's yet to be a prosecution under the employer sanctions law. Given the benefit of the doubt, those are complicated cases to make, but there's no been no evidence they're working those cases up the ladder beyond the low-level day laborer arrests they're making.
Valeria Fernandez: Well what he's basically doing is he's calling it employer sanctions investigation, but he's just using the laws that have always been in the books on identity theft to conduct just large-scale workplace raids and arrest people. When he does one of those, he gets a lot of people. He can get 60 people, 20 people. So we were talking with Ryan, basically he's shifting his strategy from the neighborhood sweeps to the work site enforcement raids using the state law.
Ryan Gabrielson: That's an important detail. That change, while it has to a certain extent the same results, it makes it so he's going in with evidence of criminal activity. There's -- he goes in with evidence that these -- there are illegal immigrants working in these companies, so that meets the federal standard that he wasn't meeting in all those operations throughout 2007-2008.
Jose Cardenas: Now, the county attorney has weighed in on some of these issues. But he seems to be distancing himself just a little bit from the sheriff in a number of areas; tell us about that.
Ryan Gabrielson: He's taking a very technical line, you could say. He has been a strong supporter of Arpaio's operations. He's called him a partner in enforcing the state's immigration laws. But to a certain extent he is perhaps distancing himself, but he gave legal advice to the sheriff's office about how to conducts the sweeps and how to do it legally, and has he come in afterwards and said the sheriff's office is in line with the constitutional requirements. Now he's noting that he gave the advice to the sheriff's office after NCSO had started conducting the sweeps. So he's not --
Jose Cardenas: And Valeria, you asked him about profiling.
Valeria Fernandez: Well, I talked to him about profiling, but I was in the press conference where he was questioned about what he thought about segregation and --
Jose Cardenas: We're talking about the county attorney?
Valeria Fernandez: We're talking about the county attorney, and the comment he made about transfer of undocumented immigrants into tent city. And he said clearly that he believed that segregation wasn't constitutional. So --
Jose Cardenas: And there he really did distance himself from the sheriff, saying that was inappropriate.
Valeria Fernandez: He even said he has spoken with him about it. He changed it a little bit later on saying he was talking specifically about that but he took a step back. What he was talking about is the racial profiling that Thomas conducted himself, a couple of months ago, last year, and basically he was saying that Arpaio wasn't engaged in racial profiling. His conclusion came out assuming that Arpaio was enforcing the law and was taken legal advice, but he didn't look at any numbers. He didn't conduct any surveys or anything to really see what is happening on the ground.
Ryan Gabrielson: When he met with the tribune last week he said "to my knowledge the sheriff's office has not violated any constitutional requirements or regulations." So it was to his knowledge. So he's --
Jose Cardenas: Not the result of an investigation, he's just assuming the sheriff is following his advice?
Ryan Gabrielson: Yes.
Jose Cardenas: Now, Valeria, we've also had, in addition to the investigations that have been called for in the United States, you've got complaints from the Mexican government. Tell us about those.
Valeria Fernandez: The Mexican senate basically gets together, come to an agreement, and communicate with the Mexican consulate and say, we got -- we've got to express discontent. You've got a foreign government, the Mexican government saying this is inhumane. This is a barbaric practice. You have the Phoenix-Mexican consulate sending a letter to the board of supervisors denouncing the practice of transferring the undocumented immigrants to tent city. In the manner they were transferring them, you have T.V. cameras, photo graphs, basically saying that these people were humiliated and I looked at the records, the majority of the people transferred to tent city were Hispanic.
Jose Cardenas: And some of them were here legally.
Valeria Fernandez: And some of them were here legally. There were charges against them, they were sentenced, but they were here legally with a green card. It was interesting; a lot of them had uniforms that read "and sentenced" created confusion. I guess there was mix-up with the laundry and they couldn't put uniforms. So I guess some of the men had "and sentenced" uniforms.
Jose Cardenas: Ryan, if one possible consequence of the review that the Department of Homeland Security is conducting is that they may change the terms and conditions of the 287G program. And the sheriff has said if he doesn't like the changes he'll just drop out. What will be the impact then?
Ryan Gabrielson: The impact would be more in the jails than it would be out in the general public. Because to do the type work he's doing now, especially with the workplace raids, he doesn't need 287G authority. There's no money that comes with it. But where it's valuable, if there's a place where the 287G program is working well, it's in the jails. Because they just run every single person who is coming in through the database to determine are they here illegally, if they are, they hand them over to I.C.E., I.C.E. takes it from there, normally voluntary deportations, etc. But the Homeland Security Department now under our former governor Janet Napolitano is supposedly looking at a wide range of options on what to do with 287G, including possibly expanding it. They've got about 67 I think partners local police and correctional systems across the country that are participating in the program, and there's dozens more waiting in line to sign up as well.
Valeria Fernandez: The Department of Corrections, for example, has a 287G agreement to identify the people that are in the state prisons. And that was brought in by what governor Janet Napolitano. And in my last conversation with her before she left the state, she is talking about looking at that and the possibility of expanding it in the jails. So I think that what we may see is maybe a reduction of the way that Arpaio can use his 287G that they will no longer allow him to do it with his patrols and it's only going to be limited to jails. That's what I think will happen, because of Napolitano's support for the program in the jails in the past.
Jose Cardenas: We talked about Andrew Thomas distancing himself from the sheriff. You now have the board of supervisors that's basically an open warfare with the sheriff, and in the past it was Mary Rose Wilcox raising questions about the sheriff's conduct. Now you've got battles over the budget, and do you think that's going to have any impact eventually on how the supervisors view the sheriff's role with respect to immigration?
Ryan Gabrielson: It's all interconnected to a certain extent. What's unfolding between the sheriff's office and the county attorney on one side and the board of supervisors on the other is just bizarre. You throw into the mix the investigation, the criminal investigation being done of one of the members of the board of supervisors, Don Stapley, how they will all impact each other, I have a hard time envisioning where it's going to go next. Every time something new pops up it takes me by surprise.
Jose Cardenas: Assuming -- you don't expect them to be strong supporters of the sheriff in any regard as they were before.
Ryan Gabrielson: No, certainly not as they were before. The reality is they've already -- everything they can do is in the budget and that's where the biggest fight is taking place in terms of whether he has the funds to conduct these operations. He said -- in the past when he's lost funds or has through bureaucratic bumbling lost funds that he's secured, he continues to find ways to pay for immigration enforcement. I see no reason to believe there's a budget cut that could eliminate his budget; he'd find a way to gather donations to arrest illegal immigrants right now.
Valeria Fernandez: I think the concern comes more from the possibility of lawsuits there, too. And some of the ones that are on the table right now.
Jose Cardenas: One that may be in the offing concerning the woman whose arm was broken last week, as she was resisting giving a fingerprint at the sheriff's office. You've talked to her, you have additional information. Tell us how this developed and how her arm was broken.
Valeria Fernandez: This woman just was doing a yard sale at her house, and the city of Phoenix came by, they had gotten complaints because neighbors were upset about. The city of Phoenix Police Department came by because the neighbors were complaining about the yard sale signs. I guess they were violate something city code. When the woman showed them the I.D., they accused --
Jose Cardenas: They asked her for I.D., as she was in her front yard?
Valeria Fernandez: She was standing in her front yard, and they thought they -- the I.D. was fraudulent and they arrested her on the spot.
Jose Cardenas: Did it turn out the I.D. was in fact fraudulent?
Valeria Fernandez: She claims it was a California driver's license and it was real. But I guess she never went to court. She never went to court. She was never taken to court because before that could happen, before they could ever be a case, basically the sheriff's office tried to turn her over to immigration authorities. And that's where the --
Jose Cardenas: This was six days after the arrest.
Valeria Fernandez: Six days after the arrest. Yes. Six days. That's where the whole -- the ordeal occurred -- they tried to force her to put her fingerprint on a document, an immigration federal document-- she didn't want to because she thought that was a document to agree to be deported from the country. And she resisted putting the fingerprint and in that struggle her arm got broken. Actually six people tried to get her to do that.
Jose Cardenas: Ryan, we've heard other reports of other police agencies. It's not just the sheriff's office, allegations that some officers in other departments are taking it upon themselves to question people about their immigration status and arrest them for forgery.
Ryan Gabrielson: Yes. Increasingly, ever since -- it began in 2002 after the 9-11 attacks local police started taking it upon themselves to do immigration enforcement regardless of whether they had any agreement with the federal government, asking people during routine traffic stops and just routine encounters with the public, for I.D. Sort of everybody in a sense is --Every police department from Scottsdale, city of Phoenix, they have changed their policies about whether they question people about their residency, their status, And so you're seeing increasingly well beyond the sheriff's office; local police taking on federal authority, federal responsibilities.
Valeria Fernandez: When you think about it, when it comes to the I.D.s, you have all these people in the community that if they're undocumented, they typically have an I.D. from another state in Mexico, a driver's license from Mexico, and then that's a reason to raise suspicion. They can get arrest on fraudulent -- forgery charges, and once they get taken to the sheriff's jail, right there, immigration can pulled on hole on them and deport them automatically.
Jose Cardenas: You look into this in terms of the number of charges against Latinos.
Valeria Fernandez: Yes. The series was called "unequal justice." Basically you had an increase in the number of people that were charged with forgery, right, and then as a consequence of that were being deported. There's different ways to charge people in the state when they carry a fraudulent I.D. And typically what you have with under age kids trying to buy alcohol, they get just like -- they get a fine. They get cited, that's pretty much it. But when it comes to these immigrants, they're facing forgery charges; fraudulent I.D. charges. And there was sort of like an equal way, an equal treatment.
Jose Cardenas: The numbers were fairly substantial, weren't they?
Valeria Fernandez: Yes, much larger. As I recall, I think it was like in 2007 they arrested over 5,000 people.
Jose Cardenas: We're going to have to end our interview on that note. Ryan, congratulations, and have a good time in New York. Thanks for joining on us "Horizonte."
In this segment:
Ryan Gabrielson:East Valley Tribune;Valeria Fernandez:independent journalist;
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