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Obama, Racial Profiling and Immigration Law

When President Obama made unexpected comments about the long history of racial profiling by police in this country at his press conference last night, it was a surprise to many observers who’ve seen the President position himself as a “post-racial” political figure.

But it was also a surprise to some immigrants rights’ advocates, who have been arguing for years now that the federal government’s program that deputizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws encourages just that sort of profiling of Latinos. As I wrote in a piece posted this morning, the Obama administration has just expanded that program to eleven more jurisdictions, despite serious complaints from a range of advocates and law enforcement officials that it undermines community trust in local police officers and encourages police to target people who look like immigrants.

Though the alleged abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona have gotten the most attention — mostly because he’s sought it out — studies from the General Accountability Office, Justice Strategies, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have found widespread complaints from communities who say the 287(g) program encourages police to target Latinos for minor or nonexistent crimes in an effort to get them deported.

President Obama may not be aware of this racial profiling controversy, but his Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano – a former political ally of Arpaio as Arizona governor — certainly is. Expect advocates to use Obama’s public acknowledgment of the problem to support their efforts to have the 287(g) abolished — or at least subjected to more careful scrutiny.

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