Feds Limit Arizona Sheriff’s Immigration Powers

Jacques Billeaud, Buffalo News, October 6, 2009

An Arizona sheriff known for aggressively cracking down on illegal immigration has been stripped of some of his special power to enforce federal immigration law, and he claims the Obama administration is taking away his authority for political reasons.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose office faces racial profiling allegations over crime and immigration sweeps in some heavily Latino areas of metro Phoenix, said officials from Washington won’t let him renew a deal that let his deputies make federal immigration arrests.

“Let them all go brag that they took away the sheriff’s authority. Let them all do that. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t have an ego. I will continue doing the same thing,” the Republican sheriff said, noting he can still enforce state immigration laws. “What has changed, other than the politics and the perception emanating from Washington?”

The U.S. government, which does most of the nation’s immigration enforcement, is changing its rules for allowing local police to enforce more expansive federal immigration laws. Nationally, more than 1,000 local police and jail officers have been granted the power since 2002 to make immigration requests and speed up deportations.

Arpaio has more officers with the special powers than any other local police agency in the country. For more than two years, 100 of his deputies have made immigration arrests and another 60 jail officers have identified inmates who are illegal immigrants.

Even though federal officials declined to let the sheriff keep making immigration arrests, Arpaio last week renewed a deal that will let his jail officers determine inmates’ immigration status.

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Vinnie Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which grants the special powers, declined to comment on the curtailment of Arpaio’s powers or whether any of the other 62 participating local agencies across the country have been denied renewals.

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For his part, Arpaio said he plans to continue cracking down illegal immigration by enforcing state laws that prohibit immigrant smuggling and ban employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Arpaio said his deputies can still detain suspected illegal immigrants who haven’t committed state crimes, as long as his officers call Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to pick them up.

Critics say some of Arpaio’s deputies racially profiled people during immigration sweeps. Arpaio maintains that people pulled over in the sweeps were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes.

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