Ariz. Sheriff Plans Raid In Defiance Of Justice Dept.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, so-called "America's Toughest Sheriff," plans to defy the Justice Department by conducting another of his famed immigration sweeps. His opponents are using the occasion to rally against his tactics.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We have an update, this morning, on the man who calls himself America's Toughest Sheriff. Joe Arpaio is sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix. The federal government is removing his authority to arrest illegal immigrants on the street. And the sheriff is responding with defiance.

Sheriff JOE ARPAIO (Maricopa County, Arizona): I'm going to continue to do everything I've been doing. Nothing changes.

They don't tell me what to do. I'm the elected sheriff.

And we're going to keep doing our job.

So nothing changes.

INSKEEP: Those were remarks made over the last week in a news conference, on NPR, to CNN and to Fox News. And later today, the sheriff plans another immigration sweep in spite of the federal government's instructions.

NPR's Ted Robbins is in Arizona. He's covering this story.

Good morning, Ted.

TED ROBBINS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I suppose we can't say we're surprised that Sheriff Arpaio is being defiant here.

ROBBINS: No, that's his thing. It's one of the traits that got him elected five times. He is heading more than 60 law enforcement agencies across the country, participating in these so-called 287(g) Programs; the programs that allow local officers to enforce federal immigration law, either in jail or some departments can arrest them on the streets, if they've committed another crime.

So, the idea of these programs were to catch violent criminals or possible terrorists. But Arpaio is using the law to arrest people simply for being in the country illegally, and that's usually handled administratively by the federal government not as a criminal violation. The government wants him to stop it.

INSKEEP: Although the government did give him, his officers - some of them - authority and training to make these kinds of arrests.

Why do they want to take that authority away?

ROBBINS: Well, he pretty much has admitted that his deputies use racial profiling - stopping people in Hispanic neighborhoods �cause of the way they look or the way they dress. You know, I mean in some cases he's arrested U.S. citizens or legal residents who spent time in jail before being released.

Now, the Justice Department in the Obama administration is getting tougher with civil rights enforcement than the Bush administration was, and they are investigating his tactics.

INSKEEP: So the federal government has said you no longer have the right, local law enforcement official Joe Arpaio, to go around enforcing federal law. You have nothing to do with it. We've taken the permission away.

How can he go on ahead and do an immigration raid?

ROBBINS: Well, for one thing, ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of DHS, has not actually taken away the authority - at least as of this morning. It could come any day now, though. So technically he's not breaking any agreement yet.

But what he says his main weapon is going to be is a law - a state law targeted at human smugglers. The law, it's controversial, but it says you can be arrested for smuggling yourself into the state as an illegal alien. And he's saying his deputies will drive illegal immigrants to the border, which is up to 175 miles away and drop them off. It might work. It's not likely to help him with the Justice Department investigation though.

INSKEEP: So this investigation would go on. He'll continue his activities. And protestors are active, as well.

ROBBINS: That's right. This morning, opponents are marching in Phoenix. And they say they want Arpaio's department stripped of all federal authority to detain illegal immigrants, even in jail.

How much support the opponents have, that's a good question. The voters just re-elected him. They seem to like his defiant persona: prisoners in tent cities, wearing stripes, pink underwear, eating green bologna sandwiches. But he's also been fighting with his own county board of supervisors.

There's even been some erosion among conservatives. The Goldwater Institute, a think-tank, released a report - with research - saying the immigration sweeps are ineffective, and have seriously drained resources from fighting violent crime in Maricopa County.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ted Robbins, thanks very much.

ROBBINS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And we'll give you more on that story as we learn it.

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