By STEVEN FALKENHAGEN
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX (Tuesday, Feb. 17) _ A group of Hispanic lawmakers is urging members of President Barack Obama’s administration to join in a discussion of whether Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has engaged in racial profiling or other civil rights abuses.
“It upsets me and gets me angry, but with this anger I want to take some positive course of action,” Sen. Richard Miranda, D-Phoenix, co-chair of the Arizona Latino Legislative Caucus, said at a news conference Tuesday.
Sen. Richard Miranda, D-Phoenix, speaks Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009, at a news conference at the Arizona State Capitol. Miranda and other members of the Arizona Latino Legislative Caucus echoed a call by several Democratic members of Congress for a federal investigation into whether Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had engaged in racial profiling or other discriminatory actions involving Hispanics.
(Source: Cronkite News Service Photo/Steven Falkenhagen)
Sheriff’s deputies have been conducting what they call saturation raids for the past two years in predominantly Hispanic areas. Arpaio has said these raids are aimed at apprehending criminals as well as illegal immigrants.
Miranda, however, said deputies have been stopping people instead for trivial traffic violations such as cracked windshields or broken taillights, suggesting that they are looking for illegal immigrants.
“Is he using racial profiling to conduct these raids, and why is he not seeking out other immigrants who may not be here legally?” Miranda said.
Hispanic leaders also have objected to Arpaio’s recent decision to segregate illegal immigrants in county jails.
Miranda and Ben R. Miranda, D-Phoenix, his co-chair and brother, have sent a letter on behalf of the Latino caucus putting their concerns to federal officials. They invited Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to send representatives to a legislative forum discussing Arpaio’s actions.
Ben Miranda said the group is more optimistic about the prospect of a federal review because of the administration change in Washington.
“It gives us hope that Arizona will not continue to operate as an island of violation of civil rights that individuals have throughout the country,” he said.
Two messages left with Arpaio’s media relations office weren’t returned Tuesday.
Last week, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, joined three other Democrats on the committee in asking the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to review whether Arpaio’s actions toward Hispanics amount to racial profiling or other civil rights violations.
Richard Miranda said the Arpaio’s decision to segregate illegal immigrants in jails portrays them as violent criminals even though some have yet to be tried.
“It seems to me he’s interested in publicity rather than law enforcement at this point,” he said. “These are human beings; they are not trophy mantels to be paraded around like conquests.”
Jason Martinez, chairman of the Arizona Civil Rights Advisory Board, part of the Civil Rights Division of the state Attorney General’s Office, said it’s important to keep fighting until Arpaio’s office stops immigration sweeps.
“We’re tired of being ignored; this is a serious civil rights problem,” Martinez said.