Sewage, like water, seeks its own level. A suitable illustration of this principle is found in the recent agreement between the Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County.
Doubtless there are many honorable and conscientious people among the deputies who serve under Arpaio, just as there are thousands of dutiful field officers employed by ICE. But Arpaio has become properly notorious for his proprietary brand of arrogance, authoritarianism, self-promotion, and petty corruption, and the agreement with ICE would effectively federalize one of the most scandal-ridden “local” law enforcement agencies in the nation.
“Federal immigration officials and the Maricopa County Sheriff's office signed an agreement Monday [February 26] to allow trained deputies to enforce immigration laws. Under the agreement, [ICE officials] will begin training 160 Maricopa County deputies ... to be authorized to detain and arrest suspected illegal immigrants both in the county jail and on the streets.... The agreement that Sheriff Joe Arpaio signed makes Maricopa County's participation the largest one-time addition to the effort.”
Query the first: If the suspected illegal immigrants are already in jail for alleged violations of local laws, why would Sheriff Joe need federal help to “arrest” them on immigration charges?
Query the second: Why can't local police and sheriffs arrest suspected illegal immigrants without federal “permission”? Although border security is a federal responsibility, there are ways that local law enforcement agencies can deal with the issue. For example: Police Chief W. Garrett Chamberlain of New Ipswich, New Hampshire, frustrated with federal inaction, began to arrest illegal immigrants on criminal trespass charges. (Chief Chamberlain appears to be that rarest of specimens, a police chief willing to confront the Feds on behalf of his community over a matter of principle.)
I grant that this is not the optimal way of dealing with the matter. I cite Chief Chamberlain's example simply to illustrate the fact that there are better options than entrenching federal control over “local” law enforcement.
In fact, about a year ago, Sheriff Arpaio – working in tandem with County Prosecutor Andy Thomas, who yields to nobody in his implacable greed for publicity – devised another inventive approach to border security: As the Washington Post recounts, Thomas “issued an interpretation of a new state anti-smuggling law that said illegal immigrants could be arrested if they were party to a deal to smuggle themselves into the United States. Punishment could be up to two years in jail.” Arpaio promptly assembled a posse to sweep up as many illegal immigrants as they could find.
This may or may not be a good idea, but it demonstrates, once again, that federal "permission" is not necessary to deal with the issue of illegal immigration. Yet Arizona -- which is suffering tremendously as a result of the collapse of our southern border -- has been primed for a federal "solution" that will make matters even worse, as all such "solutions" invariably do. (I find myself wondering if this is an outgrowth of Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon's plea last December for additional Homeland Security funding.)
In a report published yesterday (March 1), KVOA observed that four more Arizona police departments “are considering possible deals with the federal government that would give a limited number of local and state officers training in immigration law. If the four departments ultimately get the training, they would join two other agencies in Arizona that have already ... inked agreements with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carry out certain federal immigration duties.”
Once again, if the federal government were carrying out its duties with respect to border security, the “need” to expand its control over nominally local police agencies. But we must remember that the Feds don't expand their powers to deal with problems – they create or exacerbate problems in order to enhance their powers. This is true whether the “problem” in question is poverty, terrorism, narcotics use, or illegal immigration.
What makes the last issue so dangerous is the fact that the entire conservative movement – from the Bu'ushist media mullahs at Fox to the leaders of the John Birch Society (this fellow being a worthy exception) – has become monomaniacal on the subject of illegal immigration. Most conservatives abandoned their skepticism of federal power in the aftermath of 9-11; too many of those who held out in defense of the Bill of Rights have displayed a willingness to set aside such scruples to deal with the “border crisis.”
Sheriff Arpaio may be the single most appropriate living symbol of the conservative movement's unabashed authoritarianism.
Joe Arpaio, who appointed himself the “Nation's Toughest Sheriff” upon being elected to the position in 1992, spent several decades working for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, both in domestically and in Mexico and Turkey.
From his experience with the DEA -- during which time he was known as "Nickel-Bag Joe" for his habit of running up stats through picayune drug busts -- Arpaio apparently learned how to exploit the “war on drugs.” It's tempting to think that his time in Mexico and Turkey inspired him to create a county jail system that has become infamous for petty corruption, abuse, torture, and lethal mistreatment of non-violent offenders.
Roughly a decade ago, a federal investigation of Arpaio's county jails conducted by Oregon corrections consultant George Sullivan concluded (as summarized by the Phoenix New Times) that “an unwise abundance of stun guns, pepper spray, restraint chairs and the practice of hog-tying, combined with Arpaio's macho rhetoric about getting tough on inmates--70 percent of whom await trial under an assumption of innocence--has led to an environment where Arpaio's employees have made `unprovoked, unnecessary and, consequently, unjustified and excessive' use of force.” Nearly identical findings were reported in a separate federal inquiry two years earlier.
The Sheriff himself has compiled a record heavily laden with odd instances of hypocrisy and casual corruption:
*Five years ago, under the threat of a federal lawsuit, Arpaio was compelled to shut down a live webcast of female inmates using the bathroom.
*During a 2004 Republican primary against former Mesa Police Chief, Daniel Saban, Arpaio leaked unsubstantiated rape allegations against his political rival to a local television station.
*In the course of a prostitution sting four years ago, Arpaio authorized undercover deputies and members of his volunteer “posse” to disrobe and even engage in sexual contact with prostitutes as part of their “investigation” -- conduct that, if carried out by private citizens, would have earned them a stay in Arpaio's tent city. In fact, although most of the 70 people arrested in the “sting” were released without charges, but a handful of customers were prosecuted for conduct more or less identical to that of Arpaio's “investigators.”
Hypocrisy and corruption are good and sufficient reasons for Arpaio to be removed from office. The lethal treatment occasionally handed out by his hired thugs is a more serious matter.
In 1996, a small-time drug offender named Scott Norberg was killed while in the custody of Arpaio's deputies. An investigation by Amnesty International documented that Norberg, who had supposedly “attacked” the deputies, was handcuffed with his face shoved into the floor when he was dragged to a “restraint chair,” where he died of “positional asphyxia.” The County eventually reached an $8 million settlement with Crenshaw's family.
Philip Wilson, who was arrested and sentenced to two months in Tent City on a parole violation, was lethally beaten with a blunt object five days after being incarcerated in July 2003; he died after several months in a coma. His mother Pearl, founder of an advocacy group called “Mothers Against Arpaio,” is a former prison guard who believes – on the basis of her experience and knowledge of Arpaio's facility – that her son was “set up” by camp guards after he had complained about conditions at the jail. According to a lawsuit filed by Pearl, the inmates who killed Philip (with the alleged connivance of guards) beat him so severely by “his blood was sprayed across the tent.”
Just a few weeks ago, the County offered $1.3 million to settle lawsuits filed by Pearl Wilson and the family of Deborah Ann Braillard, a 46-year-old diabetic woman who died of medical neglect in 2005 after being jailed on a drug charge. The lawsuit on behalf of Braillard points out that since she was a repeat offender, Tent City officials knew that she was a diabetic, but they denied her appropriate treatment for two days.
The Arpaio body count also includes Brian Crenshaw, jailed on drug and petty robbery charges, who was beaten into a fatal coma shortly after being put behind bars, and Charles Agster, a mentally handicapped man who was killed in the County Jail shortly after being arrested on misdemeanor loitering charges.
Brian Crenshaw (l.), Charles Agster (r.).
Let me repeat: Arpaio's squad of degenerate bullies killed a mentally handicapped man who had been arrested for loitering.The official story was that Crenshaw somehow suffered his fatal injuries by falling off his bunk.
I am of the opinion that drug use should not be a criminal offense; honorable people can disagree in good faith. Obviously, theft of any sort is a crime. Loitering might be considered an offense against public order, or perhaps a form of harassment in some circumstances. But obviously none of these behaviors merits the equivalent of a death sentence, particularly death through torture.
Over the past decade, Maricopa County has paid more than $13 million in legal settlements arising from incidents of this type.
As the County has absorbed the costs of his maladministration and suffocated beneath the stench of his corruption, Arpaio has withdrawn into a dictatorial cocoon: He created a “Threat Assessment Squad” -- essentially an armed praetorian guard – to insulate himself from the handful of journalists who ask him pointed questions; he has repeatedly refused to comply with requests for information he is compelled to provide under Arizona law; and last December he and his allies threatened the staff of the New Times with felony charges for publishing his home address.
The rationale offered by Arpaio is a familiar one to anyone who understands the significance of the phrase “Reichstag Fire”: The valiant Sheriff insists that his enemies are trying to kill him, as illustrated by a purported attempt to plant a bomb in his car in 1999. As it happens, the alleged bomber, a small-bore street crook named James Saville, was paid $2,000 by an undercover agent to create a dud bomb, and then led by the same undercover agent to the Sheriff's parked car. Saville was acquitted of charges in 2003.
Arpaio has never worked an honest day in his life; every cent he has been paid he has received from the taxpayers. He has been marinated for decades in statist assumptions, and as age-related dementia claims what little rationality he once possessed, he has blossomed into an undisguised megalomaniac.
Given all of this, is it any wonder that Arpaio and his Sheriff's Department would find themselves working hand-in-mailed-fist with the Homeland Security Leviathan?
Just days ago, Mitt Romney – whose presidential bid has received the blessings of the Bush crime family -- appointed Arpaio to his campaign committee in Arizona. Should Romney make it to the White House, it's likely that Arpaio would be given an elevated post – perhaps even more than a sinecure – in the Homeland Security bureaucracy.
For those who are interested in hearing my interview yesterday on Chris Arzen's program "Iron Sharpens Iron" (thanks, Chris), it is archived at the website of the Christian Liberty Party, here.
The wonderful CLP site has a huge and very valuable audio and video archive well worth your time.