Monday, December 19, 2011

Anti-immigration "culture of bias" creeps closer to N.C. border

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 3:21 PM

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South Carolina is in the hot seat today. The U.S. Department of Justice, which filed suit against the state in October over its draconian new anti-immigration law, is seeking an injunction to block the law from taking effect Jan. 1.

The DOJ argues the law would undermine federal authority and that it “could result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors, legal immigrants and U.S. citizens.” Similar suits have been filed against Arizona, Alabama and Utah.

When Arizona introduced SB1070 in early 2010, the restrictive immigration measure sparked a slew of copycat proposals in states including Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and our neighbor just down I-77, South Carolina. Although significant immigration reform at the federal level remains unseen, a DOJ investigation into the impact of Arizona's law has yielded unsettling results. The report finds notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's department guilty of overseeing “the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in U.S. history,” according to a Phoenix New Times story last Thursday.

The investigation — which calls Arpaio's agency a "culture of bias" — lists several instances of discrimination perpetrated on Arizona's Latino residents, including the following listed on the New Times blog:

* A study commissioned by the Justice Department found that "Latino drivers are four-to-nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers."

* A fifth of all the immigration-sweep traffic stops violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

* Arpaio's anti-immigration squads responded repeatedly with enforcement patrols to complaints about people with "dark skin" or Spanish speakers.

* Jail guards punished Spanish-speaking inmates for failing to understand their commands in English, sometimes putting them in solitary confinement for that reason.

* Jail guards refused to accept grievance forms and "tank orders," which allow inmates to request basic daily services, that are written in Spanish.

* Guards pressured Latino inmates to sign voluntary deportation forms. (That allegation helped lead to today's announcement by Homeland Security that the 287(g)cross-training program was being taken out of the jails.)

* Arpaio's office retaliated against its critics by subjecting them to "retaliatory detentions and arrests without cause, unfounded civil lawsuits, and other baseless complaints."

The Justice Department also reported instances of U.S. residents and citizens being detained on unsubstantiated charges.

Arpaio has since held a press conference calling himself the victim of a “witch hunt” (pause for irony) and “plans to cooperate with the DOJ, but isn't afraid to take the feds to court if they're not satisfied with any changes he makes in how he enforces the law.”

As of now, South Carolina's new immigration law is set to take effect on the first day of 2012. Will our sister state welcome the new year as a stronghold of Southern hospitality or a "culture of bias?"

Stay tuned.

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