Joe Arpaio Battles Isabel Garcia on Anderson Cooper 360

For those who didn't catch it, here's the segment from Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN last night, which featured a face-off between Sheriff Joe and Isabel Garcia, Pima County Legal Defender and Co-Chair of the human rights organization CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos. The mini-debate followed a report by Soledad O'Brien (part of CNN's "Latino in America" series) on the plight of Araceli Torres, one of eleven employees arrested during a raid on a Tucson Panda Express in March of 2008.

Torres, 26, was seven when she was brought to this country by her parents. She's attended grade school and high-school here, and has a young daughter who is an American citizen. Her mom's a legal resident, and her sister is a citizen. All she knows is America. Nevertheless, she's been ordered removed by an immigration judge, an order that's pending appeal. It's the sort of story that's painfully common in Arizona, where there are so many people who are in legal limbo because they were brought here while they were kids.

Anderson Cooper asked both Arpaio and Garcia to comment. (Garcia is actually representing Torres.) Arpaio, as you might expect, showed little-to-no sympathy.

"We have 10,000 people in jail," Arpaio told Cooper. "We have mothers, fathers split up from their families because they have violated the law. But when you talk about the illegal immigration problem, it takes it into a different situation. They're split up too. But what about everybody else in jail that are split up?"

Garcia, a pro-immigrant firebrand whom I've always admired for her stridency on this issue, responded to Arpaio's claim that he's just enforcing state law.

"Illegal entry is a federal offense, and a misdemeanor," she pointed out. "The bottom line is that the economy of Arizona has suffered because of the sweeps, because of the lack of workers being able to engage in economic activity. The fact that [Arpaio] has been able to promote laws, that are state laws focusing on immigrants, really is reminiscent of post-slavery, almost. We have like our own black codes here targeting immigrants in this particular situation."

That's an apt analogy -- to Jim Crow laws aimed at blacks in the segregationist South. The fact that undocumented aliens can be held without bond under state law, for instance, is one of these.

Disappointingly, Cooper allowed Arpaio to steer the discussion off-topic to this protest of an Arpaio book-signing back in 2008 in Tucson, where an Arpaio pinata was beaten up and Garcia was pictured holding the Joe-pinata head. Right-wingers tried to get Garcia fired from her county job for it, but they never got much traction, and Garcia came out of the pseudo-controversy unscathed.

"You know, you were down in Tucson with all these kids," blathered Joe, "with your pinata, cutting my head off, teaching kids how to fear law enforcement officers. I'm not going to get into you and your garbage down there in Tucson. So don't go insulting me."

Garcia, however, handled Joe beautifully, though he attempted to interrupt her.

"Look, what these kids did was legitimate, symbolic speech," Garcia said of the demonstration, adding, "He treats our entire community like a pinata himself."

Bravo to Garcia. That lady don't take no guff, which is probably why she's regularly the target of death threats from nativists and minuteman types. She's one of the best defenders of immigrants we have in Arizona. I would love to see the raw footage of this debate, as it is obvious that CNN edited it, adding footage of the pinata smash down in Tucson, which had absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.

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