Thursday, August 23, 2007

Local Officials Stand Up to the Feds

There are heroes among us. It should not go unappreciated that Ben Lipscomb, Rogers city attorney; Jeff Harper, Springdale city attorney; George Butler, Washington County attorney; and Robin Green, Benton County attorney, displayed an unusual commitment to upholding the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and a modicum of courage in telling the federal government where the sun does shine in Arkansas.

There are serious questions about the priority and wisdom of spending local tax dollars and diverting law enforcement resources to participate in the federal 287(g) program because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to do the job we pay them to do and protect our borders. That is why the Arkansas ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request to examine the documents and decisions that got our local governments into this mess, something the local newspapers should have done if they were serious journalists instead of docile stenographers.

The feds told our local governments to ignore state law and refuse to disclose information to the public, claiming that the routine documents belonged to immigration enforcement or contained information that would not be released under the federal Freedom of information Act. They also said public disclosure of what they did and any public challenges to the memorandum approval process would be better if the challenge was after the fact when it was too late to do anything about it. "Just to be clear," one of the feds said, "we do not agree with your decision to release the ICE records and information, nor are we authorizing any such release."

Washington County Attorney George Butler told the feds that immigration enforcement's "obsession with secrecy over matters that are mostly boiler plate and mundane is a bit hard to swallow. Your attitude, heavy-handedness and unwillingness to bear any of the brunt of this 'directive' leads me to believe that this is not a good relationship for (Washington) County to enter into. You say that if we release it, then it may impair future information you divulge to us -- well, that works both ways."

Rogers City Attorney Ben Lipscomb asked, "What in the hell are they trying to hide, George?" When considering the implicit threat from the feds, Lipscomb said, "If obeying the law jeopardizes our participation in this program, then something is wrong."

Indeed, that might be said about many federal policies concerning the Department of Homeland Security and affecting our homeland these days.

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