Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio Takes on the Feds


Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose aggressive racial profiling, attempted intimidation of the press, and flashy abusive treatment of the prisoners under his supervision have made him a hero on the nativist right, says the feds are not the boss of him.

Arpaio, who has carried out 11 “sweeps” of suspected undocumented aliens under the authority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was informed on by ICE on Friday morning that his office is now, as the Arizona Republic puts it, the only law-enforcement agency in the country to lose its authority to enforce federal immigration laws on the street. A few hours later, Arpaio, his men, and “volunteer posse personnel” took to the streets for sweep 12.

Arpaio’s document-check sweeps have been carried out with authority from ICE’s 287(g) program, which empowers local authorities to enforce immigration law. Like our own stop-and-frisk policy, the sweeps involve law enforcement stopping people without probable cause. Also like stop-and-frisk, skeptics have noted that those people tend to skew dark (Arpaio says his deputies have been trained to stop people who “look like you just came from Mexico”). Without 287g authorization, a crime has to have been committed for immigration status to be checked.

The feds, for their part, have noted that most of the people Arpaio has rounded up were minor offenders. Friday’s decision stems from an ICE policy change which redefines the mission of the program as “removing severe criminal offenders who pose a danger to society,” according to Homeland Security Assistant Director John Morton. Maricopa County currently has a backlog of 40,000 unserved felony arrest warrants.

Arpaio, who is quoted in this month’s GQ saying that all “these people” are “dirty” and should be checked like fruits and vegetables coming over the border, blames Obama, who he says isn’t interested in immigration enforcement. He’s currently not cooperating with a DOJ probe of racial profiling in his department.

Arpaio told Glenn Beck (video) in an interview that he doesn’t need ICE authorization to do what he’s doing, and he plans to keep doing it. This weekend’s sweep resulted in 60 arrests, roughly half of which were for suspected undocumented status.

For regular coverage of Arpaio that runs rings around the Republic (and just about anyone else), check out our sister paper Phoenix New Times and writer Stephen Lemons’ blog, Feathered Bastard.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2009

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