Arizona Sheriff Stands Defiant On Immigration

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Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., has become famous — or, in some eyes, infamous — for building a sprawling tent city to house prisoners and rounding up tens of thousands of people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. Arpaio tells host Guy Raz that the Department of Homeland Security is taking away his federal authority to make street arrests of suspected illegal immigrants. But he says that won't slow him down.

GUY RAZ, host:

John Morton and the Department of Homeland Security are also considering actions that would limit the power of local police to make immigration arrests, and that possibility has angered one of the most outspoken opponents of illegal immigration.

Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, the county that includes Phoenix. Arpaio's best known for building a tent city for prisoners and launching aggressive raids to round up illegal and undocumented workers. Sheriff Arpaio said this week that he expects the federal government to take away his authority under a program known as 287(g) that allows him to make immigration arrests on the street.

I asked John Morton from Homeland Security about that decision.

Mr. JOHN MORTON (Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security): The question of whether or not Maricopa County or any of the other localities that have come forward will or will not be approved has yet to be determined. That's going to happen shortly.

RAZ: But Sheriff Arpaio told me that even if he does lose that authority, there are other federal and state laws he can turn to, so he's not beholden to Homeland Security.

Sheriff JOE ARPAIO (Maricopa County, Arizona): They don't tell me what to do. I'm the elected sheriff. This is all politics - everything. They've started out by the Obama administration's first 60 days in the administration going after me with the attorney general of the United States.

RAZ: Sheriff Arpaio, as you know, there have been plenty of studies that show that a large segment of illegal immigrants in detention have not committed any violent crimes. I'm wondering if your pursuit of nonviolent people who violated immigration laws means that you haven't been able to crackdown on real violent criminals.

Sheriff ARPAIO: Well, you know what? Then let's quit locking up DUIs, prostitutes, all those misdemeanors, which 51 percent of the people in my jails that are booked there by all law enforcement are misdemeanors. So why - and by the way, those that we arrest, the majority are human smuggling violations, 1,600 is a class 4 felony. When we go into workplaces, the majority of people we arrest that are illegal have phony identification, that's why we're number one in the nation. This is just a copout by the open border people, saying he should be going after the violent criminals.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Sheriff ARPAIO: Well, then all law enforcement then should be going after the violent criminals and not arrest anybody else. This is ridiculous. It's their garbage and propaganda because they don't want me to arrest illegals.

RAZ: Sheriff Arpaio, you recall that former President George W. Bush, in his bid to push for immigration reform, made the argument that it's unrealistic to take the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America and just send them back across the border. Doesn't he have a point?

Sheriff ARPAIO: Well, I don't know. If that's fact, how come the 287(g) program under the former president continued on? I didn't have any problem when he was the president. I didn't have the attorney general or Homeland Security going after me because I'm enforcing this program. It's just - since the Obama administration now, they zeroed in on me. They don't want this program.

RAZ: This was an argument that was made by the previous administration that it's unrealistic to send home some 12 million undocumented workers in this country. Do you think that there's a point to that argument?

Sheriff ARPAIO: No. This is the greatest country in the world. We send troops and money overseas to fight wars. You're trying to tell me that if we really were serious about this, we slowly cannot get the people that are here illegally back to their home country? I don't go along with that.

RAZ: Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County. He joined me from his office in Phoenix.

Sheriff Arpaio, thanks for your time.

Sheriff ARPAIO: Thank you.

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