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David Leopold Headshot

Don't Do As I Do, Do As I Say

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Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu fancies himself a "Leader on Border Security" and an immigration hardliner. In 2010, when the Obama administration mounted a legal challenge to Arizona's harsh immigration law, the Pinal County sheriff stopped just short of calling the president a traitor charging, "Our own government has become our enemy and is taking us to court at a time when we need help."

Yet it turns out that the Babeu himself was willing to help one immigrant -- Jose Orozco, the sheriff's Mexican boyfriend.

That is at least until last week, when Orozco claimed that after their recent break-up Babeu threatened him with deportation. And, as if that were not bad enough, press reports suggest that the sheriff, who is a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in Arizona's 4th Congressional district, apparently knew about his lover's tenuous immigration status and may have illegally employed Orozco without authorization.

Unfortunately this story is an all too common one in America.

Day in and day out people cynically use the immigration law as a battering ram to threaten and coerce undocumented immigrants. Often the abuser is a U.S. citizen husband who exploits his ability to sponsor his immigrant wife for a green card. He uses his citizenship status as a weapon, a means to control her and, quite literally, beat her into submission and silence. Understandably, the immigrant spouse feels trapped, and lives in constant fear that unless she does what she is told her husband will report her to the immigration authorities. The same terror is perpetrated upon domestic partners, children, and the elderly.

Thankfully, the immigration law provides protections designed to shelter abused immigrants from their predators. Immigrants may be eligible for lawful status through the Violence Against Women Act, or other law enforcement provisions such as the T and U visa categories. In this way the law empowers immigrant victims of crime to rescue themselves from a dark world of oppression and exploitation.

But to shield immigrant victims of crime the immigration law necessarily depends on the good faith and protective instincts of federal and state law enforcement. Immigrants alleging abuse must prove to the Department of Homeland Security that they qualify for legal protection. To do so they often must rely on police reports and law enforcement certifications. When it enacted protections for immigrant victims of crime Congress clearly envisioned a critical partnership between federal and state law enforcement. The protective provisions of the immigration law cannot work without it.

That's why the allegations against Paul Babeu are so shocking. As the elected sheriff of Pinal County Arizona he is exactly the type of law enforcement official to whom immigrant victims of crime must turn when they seek safe harbor under the immigration law. If, as alleged, Sheriff Babeu used his authority to threaten his ex-boyfriend with deportation or illegally hired him knowing he was unauthorized to work in the U.S., then Babeu is guilty of more than just violating the law -- he has engaged in an appalling breach of the public trust which should not be tolerated.