An Immigration Focus Skews Our National Law-enforcement Priorities

[H/t The Indigenous Chicano] The above video is of a mother of two children getting caught up in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's racial-profiling "sweep

[H/t The Indigenous Chicano]

The above video is of a mother of two children getting caught up in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's racial-profiling "sweeps" of suspected illegal immigrants. The woman was pulled over for outstanding parking tickets but was taken away by deputies when she couldn't produce proof of citizenship. Her two children, meanwhile, were left behind in their car.

Scenes like this alone should be a signal to everyone that our nation's immigration laws are misbegotten and in dire need of reform. But even more significant is what happens to our ability to deal with real criminals when we make enforcing them the focus of our law-enforcement agencies.

In Sheriff Arpaio's case, it has proved disastrous for the residents of Maricopa County, who now not only face a severe labor shortage, but also are dealing with a sheriff's department that no longer effectively controls real crime: "under its watch violent crime rates recently have soared, both in absolute terms and relative to other jurisdictions."

The same, it seems, is true on the federal level as well, as detailed in a recent New York Times report:

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Federal prosecutions of immigration crimes nearly doubled in the last fiscal year, reaching more than 70,000 immigration cases in the 2008 fiscal year, according to federal data compiled by a Syracuse University research group. The emphasis, many federal judges and prosecutors say, has siphoned resources from other crimes, eroded morale among federal lawyers and overloaded the federal court system. Many of those other crimes, including gun trafficking, organized crime and the increasingly violent drug trade, are now routinely referred to state and county officials, who say they often lack the finances or authority to prosecute them effectively.

Bush administration officials say the government’s focus on immigration crimes is an outgrowth of its counterterrorism strategy and vigorous pursuit of immigrants with criminal records.

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

“I have seen a national abdication by the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Terry Goddard of Arizona.

Likewise, these raids have produced a series of real travesties of justice. The most prominent case of this involved the raids in Iowa last summer which resulted in a perversion of the American justice system as immigrants faced coercive tactics -- workers were charged improperly with a crime of which they were innocent as the means of forcing them to plead guilty to a lesser charge, for which they then accepted five-month prison sentence -- from prosecutors who lined them up for en masse convictions.

Immigration raids, in fact, have been nudging us inexorably toward a police state. Of course, for the right-wing ideologues who have been pushing these policies, that's probably just fine with them. For the rest of us, not so much.

About David Neiwert

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