Arizona Sheriff Vows to Continue Immigration Sweeps Despite Federal Downgrade

FOX News, October 12, 2009

A firebrand Arizona sheriff known for his hard-line immigration enforcement is vowing to press ahead with an illegal immigrant sweep Friday, defying a revised Department of Homeland Security policy that takes away his federal authority to make such arrests.

“I’m not gonna stop,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in an interview with FOXNews.com. He said the federal changes amount to a political hit job and that if Immigration and Customs Enforcement won’t take illegal immigrants off his hands he’ll personally drive them to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Nothing will change,” he said. “I’m not going to be deterred by any bully.”

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The federal government stripped Arpaio of part of his federal authority to enforce immigration law by changing its rules under a program allowing local police to enforce those laws. Under the changes, Arpaio’s jail officers would still be able to check inmates’ immigration status but would not be able to make federal immigration arrests on the streets.

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Arpaio claims he still has authority to make the arrests under state human smuggling laws and other provisions, regardless of whether he’s charging the suspected illegal immigrants of any other crimes. He said that if ICE won’t take his suspects, he’ll drive them down to U.S. border patrol agents. If they don’t take them, he said, “I assume they won’t accept any illegals.”

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But Arpaio is notorious among immigrant rights groups for his treatment of suspected illegal aliens once in custody. He is known for clothing inmates in pink underwear, making them work on chain gangs and subjecting them to other harsh conditions.

The Justice Department has been investigating his office over claims of discrimination and unlawful practices.

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Arpaio remains defiant. He said he’s glad to be able to conduct immigration sweeps without having to follow federal guidelines.

“They can’t stop this sheriff. I don’t report to the feds. I report to the people,” he said. “They should give me a medal–shouldn’t be the Nobel Peace Prize, but it should be something.”

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