Ariz. Sheriff Says His Office Does Not Racially Profile, Plans to Keep Enforcing Immigration Law

By Penny Starr | March 17, 2009 | 6:06 PM EDT

Arizona's Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio (AP Photo)

( -  Facing a Justice Department investigation of his department’s practices, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told that his deputies do not racially profile people, that they enforce federal immigration laws in keeping with the training they received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and that his Democratic critics in the U.S. Congress, who called for the Justice Department to investigate him, are politically motivated.
Arpaio's department, like many other local law enforcement agencies around the country, has entered into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division under what is known as section 287(g) of the 1996 immigration law.

As the Government Accountability Office explained in a January report: "Under these agreements, state and local officers are to have direct access to ICE databases and act in the stead of ICE agents by processing aliens for removal. They are authorized to initiate removal proceedings by preparing a notice to appear in immigration court and transporting aliens to ICE-approved detention facilities for further proceedings."

Arpaio said that his department’s partnership with ICE has resulted in the removal of 24,000 illegal aliens from Arizona without racial profiling.

“We don’t racial profile," Arpaio told "They can say whatever they want. They quote the information from newspaper columnists--they don’t even go to get the facts--from activists that every day are in front of my office for two years, calling me every name in the book.”
Arpaio said he believes the Democratic members of Congress who called for the Justice Department to investigate his sheriff's office do not like the federal program that allows trained local law enforcement officers to enforce the immigration law. 
“I don’t think they like the 287(g) agreement where you can use law enforcement authority to enforce those illegal immigration laws,” Arpaio said. “Because they are for amnesty and they’re for open borders. It’s very simple. Why is it that these five or six elected officials are all Democrats? I don’t see any Republicans opposing these types of crackdowns.”
Arpaio, who is a Republican, said he worked at the highest level of drug enforcement for the Department of Justice at posts in Texas, Mexico, and the Middle East before being elected as sheriff 16 years ago.
“I think I know where Mexico is,” Arpaio said. “Most politicians wouldn’t know how to get there. But they’re all experts, including this Conyers up in Michigan sticking his nose in Maricopa County, the state of Arizona. I don’t see any other congressional delegations here in Arizona going after me or against me.”

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D.-Mich.) told last week that he plans to invite Arpaio to testify in his committee about alleged abuses in Arpaio's enforcement of immigration laws.
Arpaio told that ICE trained his deputies to do the job they are doing.
“We have five weeks of training, paid for by the U.S. government,” Arpaio said. “Intensive, eight-hour-a-day training. What other cops get that kind of training? We do. And we don’t racial profile, and that’s the only allegation they can get against me to try to get the federal government to investigate me. They can come down. They can send a hundred down here. I’m not worried about it. And I’m not concerned.”
When asked about what critics have called sweeps of neighborhoods designed to root out illegal aliens, Arpaio said his deputies are doing their job.
“I don’t call them sweeps,” Arpaio said. “They are crime suppression operations. We have 160 officers trained by ICE--pursuant to our duties, if we come across a violation of the law and we determine they are also illegal, we arrest them. We do not go on street corners. We go everywhere with our crime suppression, just like we do with the DUI task force.”
“It’s not a secret,” Arpaio said. “We have patrol cars that go into neighborhoods and if there are any unlawful acts, we take action.”

He said determining whether someone who has broken the law is illegally in the country is what the ICE program is designed to do.

“We investigate because we are trained to do that by ICE,” Arpaio said. “But on the streets, if we pull somebody over and they don’t have the proper identification or are suspicious and we show that they are here illegally, we’re going to arrest them. We’re not going to give them a summons to appear in court like other police departments do. How do you expect a guy to appear when he’s going to head south?”
Arpaio said a change of power in Washington won’t stop him from enforcing the law in Arizona.
“I welcome any investigation,” Arpaio said, adding that although he has read press reports about Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) wanting him to testify on Capitol Hill, he has not been asked.
“I’ve been sheriff for 17 years,” he said. “We have good training by ICE. ICE has reviewed our program constantly. They see nothing wrong with the way we operate.”
“But all at once, with a new administration, they want to find fault and listen to a bunch of activists that march in front of my building every day,” Arpaio said. “[They] call me Nazi, Hitler, Mussolini. I have kids up and down the street with banners against this sheriff. This is a little disgusting but it’s freedom of speech--so if they want to do it and I’m the law enforcing guy, then I’m going to continue enforcing all the laws and these threats are not going to stop me.”
In February, the chairman of three Judiciary subcommittees joined Chairman Conyers in signing a letter to the Justice Department calling for an investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which Arpaio heads. They are: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Scott’s staff told that it “wouldn’t be prudent” for the congressman to comment about an ongoing investigation.
Calls and e-mails to the offices of Nadler, Lofgren and Conyers did not elicit responses by deadline.
In a Mar. 10 letter, Acting Assistant Atty. Gen. Loretta King, informed Arpaio that the Justice Department was commencing an investigtaion of his sheriff's office that wuold "focus on alleged patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures conducted by the MCSO, and on allegations of national origin discrimination, including failure to provide meaningful access to MCSO services for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals."

Arpaio said he had not decided yet if he would testify in Conyers's committee, if Conyers in fact asks him.

“Well, I’ll have to think about it,” he said. “It might give me a chance to blast them and show them how prejudiced they are against my operation. I have to decide.”
“But it’s funny, why would they want me to go down there when they already called for a federal investigation?” Arpaio said. “So I’m being investigated and yet they want to get me on the witness stand? But I may consider it because you know what? The whole truth will come out and they won’t like it. So I doubt if they’ll call me.”