DHS Severs Ties With Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Over Civil Rights

Justice Department found practices in the Maricopa sheriff's office unconstitutional, discriminatory.

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The Department of Homeland Security is restricting access to immigration enforcement programs in Maricopa County, Ariz., after Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office was found to have violated civil rights.

The Department of Justice released the results of a three-year investigation by its Civil Rights Division today, which found practices by the sheriff's office in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, unconstitutional and discriminatory.

"Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. "DHS will not be a party to such practices. Accordingly, and effective immediately, DHS is terminating MCSO's 287(g) jail model agreement and is restricting the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office access to the Secure Communities program."

[Read: DHS task force puts 'Secure Communities' at risk.]

The two programs are a way Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, allows local law enforcement agencies to cooperate in identifying immigrants in the country illegally.

Napolitano said that, rather than letting Maricopa County law enforcement continue to help in that process, "DHS will utilize federal resources for the purpose of identifying and detaining those individuals who meet [ICE's] immigration enforcement priorities."

Arpaio, the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America" has been a divisive national symbol, admired by some who believed he was helping his state enforce immigration law effectively. After meeting with him, presidential candidate and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann called him "one of my heroes."

Fellow 2012 presidential contenders Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain also met with Arpaio, presumably hoping his endorsement would help prove their immigration bona fides among the Republican faithful. In the end, Arpaio endorsed Perry.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on immigration policy.]

But Arpaio is a villain to others who believed he was violating civil rights, a belief the Justice Department's investigation now corroborates. The department says it would like to resolve the matter without litigation, though the report says DOJ "will not hesitate to file suit, if necessary."

Among the department's findings were that in Maricopa County, Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely than non-Latino drivers to be involved in traffic stops, inmates who didn't understand officers' commands in English were punished, and the sheriff's office retaliates against people who criticize its practices, with unfounded arrests and lawsuits. The report states that the office's "discriminatory treatment of Latinos reflects a general culture of bias."

One expert, the report reads, "concluded that this case involves the most egregious racial profiling in the United States that he has ever personally seen in the course of his work, observed in litigation, or reviewed in professional literature."

The immigrant rights community welcomed the report as evidence of what they've alleged all along, and welcomed Napolitano's decision to cut ties.

Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, used the opportunity to call on President Obama to end the controversial immigration-status checking program Secure Communities altogether. She also warned other law enforcement officials who have looked up to Arpaio.

"The bells have tolled for justice and we expect justice to be served," Salas said in a statement. "Let this report be a red flag to other sheriff departments throughout the nation that erroneously think they can get away with stepping over the civil and human rights of Latinos and immigrants."