PHOENIX - Thirty-seven times Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies have raided Valley businesses looking for illegal immigrants.
The sheriff says each investigation takes about a year of work on behalf of his deputies... developing intelligence, tracking down leads.
Thirty-seven times... or, extrapolated, 37 years of investigative work.
How many times have sheriff's investigators arrested an employer under the state's employer sanctions law and seen a case result in a successful prosecution?
It may be getting a little frustrating.
Witness what happened Tuesday morning. Sheriff's investigators raided Valley View Building Services looking for 25 people suspected of being in the country illegally. They arrested four alleged illegal immigrants.
But Sheriff Arpaio reportedly told the business owner, Joel Votaw, it was his fault.
"Sheriff Joe says we should have known he was illegal. I'm not exactly sure how we do that. Is it because he was brown? I don't know, maybe, maybe not. I don't know how we're supposed to find that out," Votaw said.
Votaw won't likely faces charges under the employer sanctions law because he did what every other business owner does, as required by law. He used the E-Verify system.
The problem, of course, is that many illegal immigrants use fake IDs and stolen social security numbers to get work. So, when employers check out their numbers, E-Verify says they're legal.
The sheriff is now saying business owners should look for signs and signals, although he's not real specific as to what those signs and signals should be.
"Is there something legal that we're not aware of as business owners that we should be checking? Because I don't think that we can just fire people based on accusations or suspicions that they might be here illegally," Votaw said.
The subtext of Votaw's comments is the sheriff asking employers to do the job of law enforcement, or perhaps do what law enforcement can't do: check up on employees based on their perceived ethnicity.
But if the sheriff believes these employers are hiding behind e-verify, then his frustration is clearly misdirected. Clearly, the problem is e-verify.
E-Verify is merely a data base with names and numbers and photographs. If someone has cheated the system, it's next to impossible for employers to know. Even the sheriff admits these investigations are lengthy and painstaking, so it's difficult to imagine what he expects employers to do that they aren't doing already.
But that apparently isn't enough to keep the sheriff from publicly maligning those business owners who he thinks are up to no good, even if he can't prove it.
It may not stand up in court, but there's always the court of public opinion.
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