Texts to Warn of Illegal Immigrant Roundups in Phoenix Area

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Phoenix, AZ—An advocate for the rights of illegal immigrants has instituted a texting notification system designed to let thousands of local residents known when crime sweeps are about to take place.

Lydia Guzman is the director of a nonprofit group, Respect/Respeto, in Phoenix. She says that the texts, which go out within minutes of the sweeps, are intended to protect Latinos from falling prey to racial profiling. Sheriff’s deputies in Arizona’s Maricopa County have fallen under fire for targeting Latinos in traffic stops, with the intention of checking their immigration status and thereafter deporting those who are in the United States illegally.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has conducted approximately 13 sweeps since spring 2008, denies that any racial profiling takes place on the part of his deputies. Nearly 700 arrests have been made as a result of the crime sweeps, and half of those arrested were then held on immigration violations.

Since Arpaio makes public the details of the sweeps, Guzman contends that she is simply disseminating information, not attempting to help anyone evade the law. She does admit that some of those who receive the text messages regarding the traffic stops and other crime sweeps may use that information in order to avoid deportation, but cites her constitutional rights to free speech in sending the texts.

One First Amendment scholar likens the messages to those which publicize DUI checkpoints or speed traps, or even to the low-tech method of flashing one’s car headlights to let other drivers know that police are nearby. On the contrary, opponents feel that if the messages are specifically intended to help immigrants sidestep arrest, the sender could be considered an accomplice after the crime.

Arpaio and other opponents of the texting trees, which include such civil liberties and immigrants’ rights groups as the ACLU of Arizona, Copwatch, Somos America and Puente, say that the texts may be used to tip off human-smuggling organizations.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have been criticized widely by human rights organizations, not only for targeting illegal immigrants but also for maltreatment of inmates in local jail and prison facilities. Some of Arpaio’s more controversial policies have included instituting chain gangs, broadcasting live videos over the Internet of arrestees being processed into jails, and setting up a tent city in which inmates live outdoors in 150-degree weather.

 

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