Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona, talks about the decision by the federal authorities to not renew the 287 (g) agreement that would allow Sheriff Joe Arpaio to continue immigration enforcement on the streets.
Jose Cardenas: This month the U.S. Department of Homeland Security stripped Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of his authority to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants based solely on their immigration status. Sheriff Arpaio says this will not change the way he enforces immigration laws and will continue his crime suppression sweeps in the valley. Joining me to talk about the 287g agreement ending between Sheriff Arpaio and the Federal Government is Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. Alessandra you've been on this show before, we've discussed this topic. I want to start with some Cronkite 8 Poll numbers. One of the top things that was discussed was the sheriff's popularity, and also the populouses, the people polled, their reaction to this specific issue. So you had in terms of his job performance, strongly approve, 39%, and approve, 22%. Versus a disapproval of 35%, roughly, between disapprove and strongly disapprove. And then with respect to the point we made in the introduction about the federal government's action, most people strongly disagree with what the federal government did. They side with Sheriff Arpaio on this, only 36% agree. And 60% disagree. Obviously the ACLU takes a different position to this. How do you explain the sheriff's continued popularity generally, and public support for his position on what the federal government just did, and how do you reconcile that with the ACLU's position?
Alessandra Soler Meetze: He's very media savvy. Here we have a politician who has recognized that immigration is a polarizing issue, and it conjures up all kinds of very strong opinions on both sides of the political spectrum. And we of course disagree with his position on immigration enforcement. He is a sheriff that's launched and -- launched a very aggressive media campaign, essentially vilifying Latinos in this community. And I think it demonstrates his discriminatory intent, it demonstrates how he has really capitalized on the immigration issue. We believe he's really going outside of the scope of his authority, that he's enforcing civil immigration laws, that he doesn't have the authority to do that, and we think that he's also using these powers to profile people during traffic stops and to really target people based on race, which is Tim reply impermissible.
Jose Cardenas: I want to talk about the profiling, but what was the ACLU's reaction to the federal government's decision to strip Sheriff Arpaio of his 287g authority, at least as it relates to non-jail activities?
Alessandra Soler Meetze: It was extremely significant decision. This is a decision that demonstrates that the federal government was not comfortable with the way that he was exercising his authority under this prior agreement. They stripped him of his authority to conduct these random street operations. He had from the very beginning been really operating outside the scope of this agreement. The agreements never permitted random street operations. They never permitted the arrest of people for civil immigration violations for not having proper documentation. And more importantly, they never permitted the use of race during traffic stop, or by law enforcement. And that's exactly what he's been doing, how he's been operating. So I think it was important decision by the federal government. I think that for practical purposes it has been symbolic locally because he's chosen to basically ignore the federal government and continue to conduct these operations, which we think are not just problematic, we think they're unconstitutional, we think he's really operating outside the scope of the constitution.
Jose Cardenas: We did ask the sheriff's department to -- the sheriff himself to come on the show, or send a representative, and they declined. But they did give some statements to our producer, and specifically with respect to this particular topic. They said that they still have the authority, or they believe, to enforce state law, and that's the basis for continuing to do what they do. And then made the point that they can still refer individuals to ICE, and I assume that's a reference to the authority they still do have to refer people who have been arrested and are being booked to ICE. What's your response to those points? And this was from Jack McIntyre from the sheriff's office.
Alessandra Soler Meetze: Of course we would expect MCSO to cooperate with the federal government and to enforce state laws. Especially state criminal violations. But what the NCSO deputies are doing, they're enforcing federal immigration laws. Civil immigration laws, which they now have no authority to proceed w he has argued that he has tools, the employer sanctions law, and the human smuggling law, but these are laws that he doesn't have the authority to utilize those state laws in downtown phoenix during random street operations.
Jose Cardenas: Why is it? Why doesn't he have the authority --
Alessandra Soler Meetze: They're very specific. They are looking for people who have been smuggled, who are engaging in human smuggling. What he's doing now -- and in the workplace, the employer sanction law gives him the authority to investigate allegations of identity theft. And so those -- we argue he does not have the ability to use these state laws to stop people and then arrest them for civil immigration violations.
Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, it's the ACLU's position that racial profiling has taken place. You have a lawsuit against him for that. Give us the current status of the litigation.
Alessandra Soler Meetze: We're in what's called the discovery phase where both sides are being deposed, I think what's really important from our perspective, we would urge people who feel like they've been victims of profiling to contact our office and to share their stories. It's a very significant problem. Here we have a law enforcement agency that is targeting people in this community, Latinos in this community simply based on race. And it violates the fundamental American values that we have.
Jose Cardenas: The sheriff would say he's not making decisions based on race, he has said, though, recently on the Glenn Beck Show on the Fox Network, and then to our own channel 12, that you can tell by the way people look that they've recently come from another country. What's your response to that?
Alessandra Soler Meetze: That's profiling. What we have here is a sheriff using the media, making statements in the press that he is targeting people based on race, which is plain and simple impermissible by our constitution. And he has made numerous public -- this isn't the first time he's said he targets people based on what they look like. He said it numerous times. He's said he's vilified Latinos, Mexican-Americans in the press, and this is information that we -- that demonstrates the discriminatory intent of his policies, that demonstrate that he is using race and using skin color to stop people during routine traffic stops. What he does is he sort of uses these stops, these minor traffic violations like broken windshield, failure to use a turn signal as a legal cover to investigate people for their immigration status. It means that a large group of people, a large group of Latinos will be stopped, detained, and questioned, simply because of their skin color.
Jose Cardenas: You describe the federal government's action with regard to 287g as being largely symbolic. That seems to be the case, because the sheriff says he's going to keep doing this. Do you expect it will have any impact whatsoever on his ability to continue doing the things he's doing, and also on the public perception of it?
Alessandra Soler Meetze: I think that the problem here is that the federal government really has an obligation to ensure that agencies like NCSO operate, do not continue to abuse their authority under these agreements. And I think they have an obligation to make sure that he is following the existing agreement. As I said, it's a significant decision, because now he no longer has that authority. But he has chosen to ignore the revised agreement, and continue with thighs random street operations. We believe that he doesn't have the authority to do so, and are raising these issues in the courts.
Jose Cardenas: We have only a little time. I want to talk about another battle went to ACLU and the sheriff, and that has to do with transporting female inmates to obtain abortions. What's going on there?
Alessandra Soler Meetze: Well, we have been litigating this case for many years. Arpaio had an unwritten policy of refusing to transport inmates seeking abortions. The case was resolved, we had a court that said women have a constitutional right to obtain abortions in the prison, in the jail system.
Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, he's not denying that, he's saying that you can't use public moneys to provide for an abortion.
Alessandra Soler Meetze: What he is saying now, he's basically requiring prepayment in order to obtain an abortion. Women have a constitutional right to obtain abortions. It's a legitimate medical need. So women who are incarcerated, he has an obligation to provide them with medical services. So what he's doing is basically carving out exceptions for abortions because he doesn't agree with that. So he's opposing his own religious views on women who are incarcerated in his jails. We have said from the beginning we haven't argued with the fact that women -- they have to pay.
Jose Cardenas: I'm afraid we're out of time. But as I understand it, the court ruled your favor --
Alessandra Soler Meetze: The court ruled in our favor last week, and basically said that he has an obligation to transport women. He can ultimately if he wants to charge them and collect the fees, but he cannot use it as conditions.
Jose Cardenas: We're going to have to leave out that note. Alessandra Soler Meetze, thank you for joining us.
Alessandra Soler Meetze: Thank you.
Alessandra Soler Meetze:Executive Director, ACLU of Arizona;