Friday, September 11, 2009

MCSO Seeking Loopholes in Immigration Enforcement: Unpaid Traffic Tickets

MCSO is being sneaky again. They're going after people why have unpaid traffic tickets and fines for not having drivers licenses. Of course a good portion of those who don't have licenses are most likely undocumented immigrants. And a lot of folks who are too afraid to show up for court or interact further with police after a stop are likely to be at risk for deportation as well.

What's messed up about this is that my friend who drove us to one of the big immigrants' rights marches a few years back got a ticket on his car when we got back to it. We were completely legally parked. We took pictures of the car and the signs and everything. I had a feeling that a lot of the cars in the area got ticketed even if they were legally parked. Then the undocumented migrants will either have to go to court and prove their innocence and then risk being found out as undocumented, or they will have to avoid the whole thing and have an unpaid ticket on their record.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio may have a way to bypass possible changes in federal immigration law by arresting illegal immigrants on outstanding charges such as unpaid traffic tickets and fines for not having drivers licenses, according to immigration attorneys and Hispanic activists who monitor the agency’s activities.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Web site lists 30 individuals arrested over the past three days for not paying fines, another 24 had charges that included missing court dates. The information, however, did not specify whether the individuals were undocumented.

The failure to pay fine charge means the MCSO and other police agencies can arrest illegal immigrants without getting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement approval at the time of the arrest. Immigration charges can be added after defendants are booked, said sources, some of whom asked not to be identified.

“If there is an outstanding warrant for failure to pay fines, then MCSO can pick up the person on the warrant itself, regardless of their immigration status and not have to get into that with the person or call ICE — because it will be addressed when the person gets booked in jail,” said Margarita Silva, a Phoenix attorney with the law office of Navidad, Leal & Silva. More...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Harassment of Legal Observers at Sheriff's Sweep

Please view these videos from the last sweep.

We need to continue to observe and document these sweeps (even if doing just that doesn't accomplish much). They clearly don't like us doing it, more so now than ever, it seems. What are they trying to hide?

These officers cannot stop you from filming. They have no expectation of privacy!

Both officers claimed that they can take the video as evidence. If it is true that they can take your camera as evidence because you're filming their investigation, then wouldn't they want that evidence? Hey, free effortless evidence, right? In my years of copwatching, I have only heard this response from a cop once (at the time the cop claimed we couldn't film the other cop reading a suspect his Miranda rights. What kinda bullshit is that?). It is interesting that different MCSO cops in different locations used the same response.

If we were to assume that it is true that one cannot document an active investigation, is a traffic stop an active investigation? And if so, why have folks been able to document millions of traffic stops all over the country? The fact is that the police are public servants (supposedly) and have no expectation of privacy when they are performing their duties.

The next question is, can one film undercover officers? I have heard this response a few times in the past, but it never results in anything. If it is true that one cannot film undercovers then why does one cop say it, drop it, and the other cop doesn't bring it up until later on. Must not be that big of a deal, huh? The way he explains it is that the undercover officers wouldn't want people to take pictures of their face. Is that a legal issue?

Someone filming from across the street is not interfering with a stop or investigation. The police choose to bring their attention to the folks who are documenting, just as they have chosen many times to ignore folks with cameras.

While the filming may not actually stop the racial profiling and harassment of folks with brown skin, it does tend to put the police on the defensive, and often they start treating the "suspects" better when they're on film. It is important that the legal observing continue.

If you plan to document the police locally, please contact Phoenix Copwatch. They can provide you with information to help you observe and film safely and with minimum risk of arrest. phoenix_copwatch [at] yahoo [dot] com

Update: These incidents got some mainstream media coverage. MCSO YouTube Clip Sparks Outcry was rather sympathetic to the folks documenting, or maybe it just seems so because the MCSO representative was so inarticulate. This is one quote: "'The First Amendment, yeah, he does have the right to express and do what he needs to do but when asked by a law enforcement officer as he is conducting an official investigation, then he does cross the line,' said MCSO Detective Aaron Douglas." He's not even making a clear statement here. In addition he suggests that one option to deal with this problem is, as the article reports, "deputies may even start carrying video cameras so they can record incidents where people are videotaping them." What is that!? They'll film back, and that's the solution?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ex-ICE Officer Charged in Drug-Smuggling

Yet another case of law enforcement officials involved in drug smuggling was exposed this week. Richard Padilla Cramer was arrested for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US. Cramer was a former high-ranking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who worked near the border in Arizona. He retired in 2007.

The Associated Press recently published an article about their investigation on corruption among law officers on the border. Unlike any discussion about Mexican citizens or migrants involvement in drug trafficking or other crimes (or US citizens of color involved in drug dealing), this article was very sensitive to the officers' vulnerability to bribery. Nonetheless, they exposed that this isn't just a case of rotten apples. I would take it one step further and argue that this is a systemic problem- that law enforcement is by its very nature corrupt.

It is ridiculous that the supposed attempt to fight the drug war is to get more law enforcement involved. It's no wonder that since the Merida Initiative, aka Plan Mexico, there has been more corruption (I discuss this further in Breaking Down the Mexican Drug War).

From On Border, Agents Struggle with Corruption
As Calderon sent thousands of soldiers to northern Mexico to stop the gruesome cartel violence and clean out corrupt police departments, CBP, the largest U.S. law enforcement agency, boosted its border forces by 44 percent or 6,907 additional officers and agents on the southwest border.

At the same time, CBP saw the number of its officers charged with corruption-related crimes nearly triple, from eight cases in fiscal 2007 to 21 the following year...

In the past 10 months, 20 agents from CBP alone have been charged with a corruption-related crime. At that pace, the organization will set a new record for in-house corruption; 90 employees have been charged with corrupt acts since October 2004. Agency officials expect those cases to continue to climb: There are 63 open criminal investigations - including corruption cases - against CBP employees.

I have been casually keeping track of cases such as this for a few years. I have been particularly interested in the fact that migrants are stereotyped as drug smugglers while law enforcement is not. While obviously nearly everyone has vulnerability to this lucrative business.

Human smuggling, is another lucrative business. Most of these non-drug related corruption charges involve providing "legal" paperwork for folks crossing the border- probably those who have money and are therefore probably involved in the drug trade. So who's to blame for drug traffickers entering the US.

An opinion piece from October 2006, Corrupt officials at home hinder real immigration reform lays out a number of examples of border-area law enforcement corruption, particularly drug trafficking, such as this example: "Border Patrol agent David Duque faces up to 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for legal documents. He sold fake passports, birth certificates and Social Security cards. He even received $5,000 to allow a cocaine shipment through the Texas border."

Surely decriminalizing drugs and migration would solve the problem of corruption. And surely poverty and the perceived need for more and more money by those who already have it are to blame as well. People will always have incentive to do wrong within capitalism. The drugs and migration are not necessarily the problem in and of themselves- it's the abuse of the drugs, and especially the violence that pervades these underground markets, that are the problems.

While watching a video on the Mexican drug trade, I wrote down a quote from a woman who was heavily involved in drug trafficking in Mexico: "You'd have to wipe out the government to wipe out drug trafficking." I'm quite certain she was referring to how corrupt the Mexican government is. But clearly government officials, with their power, access, and impunity (mostly), along with everyone assuming they're innocent because they are part of law enforcement, are not immune from participating in that which they claim to counter, whether in the US or not. So maybe we really would have to get rid of the government to get rid of these crimes.

By the way, since Arpaio was involved with the DEA in Mexico, someone should really look into what he might be hiding...

Arpaio Targets Folks Selling Pirated Movies

This time Arpaio's immigration sweep involves targeting folks who pirate and sell movies and CDs. Yesterday, the MCSO surrounded an outdoor swap meet called the Mercado. There were several undercover officers, in addition to uniformed ones who apparently went into the surrounding area of south Phoenix to serve warrants, and probably to pull people over for cracked windshields and other similar minor offenses.

Some folks went out to document the sweep, as happens at these sorts of events. I heard through the grapevine that the police took someone's camera and erased the footage. I also heard that some others got detained for observing as well.

Six of the 7 who were arrested (I thought i heard more were arrested) were undocumented, and 2 were under 18 years of age.

The "crime sweep" is said to continue today, but I haven't heard anything yet from folks who are out there.

Arpaio finds any way to enforce federal immigration law by using state laws. He has been arresting folks under the human smuggling law, charging them with conspiracy if they admit to paying someone to smuggle them. The MCSO has also gone after corn vendors, and other such folks who might have a harder time maintaining a legal business.

Of course, when you are criminalized in one way, many of the things you end up doing also tend to be against or outside of the law. I believe that many citizens actually believe that there isn't all that much wrong with crossing a border. Therefore the police are forced to portray migrants as criminals in other ways- and in some cases they are, many times due to limited finances and opportunities with the added incentive brought by lucrative underground markets. But while this is a reality, there have been plenty of studies that show that migrants actually participate in much less crime than citizens do, most likely so they can just live their lives whenever possible, by avoiding trouble. Unfortunately, the MCSO and others are intent on targeting migrants, and so they find areas in which being an undocumented migrants overlaps with criminal activity, such as pirating films and CDs.

Now, we all know that the folks with the privilege to pirate films and music in the privacy of their own homes are not treated with quite the same animosity. I've made the point before that illegal downloaders are not called "illegals" while illegal border crossers are. Clearly there is a political intent to paint certain people criminals while others, despite being targeted by law enforcement, are treated more like white collar criminals.

Update:Here is a video of some folks getting detained by MCSO during the sweep: Maricopa County Sheriff Office Deputy Illegally Detains Attorney
Here's another video of someone being harassed for taping: MCSO Harassing Me at Gran Mercado