Foes Nix Sheriff’s Migrant Hot Line

More-TV32 (Tampa), July 23, 2007

A hotline launched by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that encourages residents to report information about illegal immigrants has some critics angry because it could spur racial profiling.

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Within the first 18 hours of its operation, the hot line netted about 100 calls, ranging from reports of suspected drop houses to businesses hiring illegal immigrants, sheriff’s deputies said.

Critics, such as Elias Bermudez, of Immigrants Without Borders, said Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s tool may compromise civil rights.

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Arpaio downplayed the charge of racial profiling at two news briefings called to address the new program and stressed his deputies would only approach those targeted during normal investigations.

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Arpaio also addressed another fear voiced by hot line opponents.

“Critics think people are going to report their neighbors,” Arpaio said. “We didn’t get anyone reporting their neighbors out of the 100 calls that initially came in,” he said.

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The hotline is part of a new crackdown the sheriff’s office has launched to combat human smuggling of illegal immigrants.

On Monday, Arpaio will deputize 64 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents so they can act as both federal and local law enforcement agents.

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In another move, Arpaio said about 160 armed sheriff’s deputies, reserves and volunteer posse, cross-trained to enforce immigration law, will begin saturating Valley cities as well as roadways and highways commonly used as transportation corridors for human trafficking.

Arpaio said deputies will be targeting vehicles commonly used to move human cargo to destinations inside and outside the county. If a vehicle is stopped for probable cause, deputies can question occupants about their immigration status and arrest and jail them if they’re undocumented, Arpaio said.

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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday launched a hotline for Valley residents to report information about undocumented immigrants.

Details of exactly how the hotline will work and which tips will merit further investigation have not been ironed out. Officials say they aren’t sure how many and what types of calls will come in.

Still, Arpaio said deputies would investigate people only if they had “probable cause.”

“We want evidence,” Arpaio said. “We’re not going to go on a street corner and round up a group of people because they look like they’re from a foreign country.”

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The efforts come as Arizona officials have been trying to crack down on illegal immigration and on the heels of a new state law that would fine and threaten the licenses of businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers. Experts say the federal government’s failure to pass immigration reform is spurring more local governments to act on their own.

Payson’s Town Council, for example, passed an ordinance in April that requires all its businesses to sign an affidavit stating that all employees are legal residents. Business owners who refuse to sign the affidavit won’t receive a license, said Payson Mayor Bob Edwards.

In the Valley, members of the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety also have completed Immigration and Customs Enforcement training and can act as federal officers. But those agencies say the intent is to break up human- and drug-smuggling rings and other border-related crime groups.

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The hotline is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, and some say it is troubling.

Although the hotline is supposed to field calls about criminal activity, like loads of immigrants being smuggled into the Valley, some critics said Friday they fear it opens the possibility that neighbors, former lovers and others also could turn each other in. Critics also wondered if it could lead to racial profiling.

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Arpaio insisted deputies would not engage in racial profiling but would target those contacted during routine patrols and investigations. He said he isn’t encouraging people to turn in their neighbor’s nanny, although he said, “Neighbors should be calling in when they see a crime.”

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