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Undocumented Border Crossers Won’t Be Charged As Conspirators For Paying Smugglers In Arizona

By Esther Yu-Hsi Lee on September 30, 2013 at 4:26 pm

"Undocumented Border Crossers Won’t Be Charged As Conspirators For Paying Smugglers In Arizona"

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CREDIT: Lenny Ignelzi/ AP

A federal judge has prohibited an Arizona county led by a notoriously anti-immigration sheriff from criminally charging undocumented immigrants as conspirators when they pay to be smuggled into the country.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Broomfield ruled that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County, a county known for its ruthless immigration enforcement policies, cannot continue to arrest undocumented immigrants as conspirators for paying so-called “coyotes” to smuggle them into the country.

Broomfield said that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s interpretation of the law undermines federal law, namely that federal immigration law does not criminalize immigrants as conspirators for paying smugglers. Rather, federal law considers such issues as civil matters.

After the Arizona State Legislature criminalized human smuggling in 2005, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office combined the human smuggling statute with Arizona’s conspiracy statute to mean that law enforcement authorities were given prosecutorial discretion to detain, arrest, and prosecute border crossing migrants for “conspiring to transport themselves” within county lines. The statute thus became known as the “Maricopa Migrant Conspiracy Policy.”

By 2012, the Sheriff’s office arrested and charged more than 2,000 immigrants with the conspiracy to transport themselves. In 2011, at least 75 percent of 1,800 detained individuals in Maricopa County were arrested for conspiring to “sneak themselves into the country.”

Federal judge U.S. District Judge Murray Snow previously ruled Arpaio engaged in unconstitutional racial profiling of Hispanics. The federal government also stopped Arpaio’s immigration raids by cancelling scores of deportation cases for more than two dozen immigrants on the grounds of “prosecutorial discretion.” Then, the government indicated that it would do better to focus its immigration enforcement priorities and financial resources on criminal immigrants. Days later, Arpaio conducted an immigration raid on the Phoenix-area restaurant chain, Uncle Sam’s.

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