Illegal immigrants passing through Maricopa County use the desolation of the desert as their haven and their highway. Along the way, these wayfarers have made more than campsites and trails on state land. They’ve made a mess.
On Friday, 200 inmates from Maricopa County jails cleaned up behind the migrants and other desert dumpers. Inmates canvassed a mileand-a-half of the desert in the north Valley with trash bags in hand between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., collecting 22 tons, or 87 truckloads, of trash.
“Environmental pollution is a growing problem that is exacerbated by illegal aliens crossing our deserts and not respecting the land,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Similar cleanup days, dubbed “Operation I.C.U.” (Illegal Alien’s Campsite Clean Up), will occur monthly and progress increasingly deeper into the desert.
Work began near Deer Valley Road, about five miles from Interstate 17. Inmates collected discarded food and cans, clothing and toilet paper.
“If my deputies catch anyone in the act of trashing the desert, those violators are going directly to jail,” Arpaio said.
Enforcing laws against desert dumping is another strategy authorities are using against illegal immigrants found in Maricopa County.
Arpaio has also focused on arresting illegal immigrants under a new Arizona statute criminalizing human smuggling.
Using the new law, deputies have arrested illegal immigrants for smuggling themselves across the Arizona-Mexico border.
Arpaio said some of the inmates participating in the cleanup were themselves illegal immigrants.
The project is an inexpensive way to clean up the land, because inmates are not paid, and the trash bags and trucks were obtained for free through a military procurement program, Arpaio said.
Arpaio said secret posses in camouflage from his antihuman smuggling unit are now stationed in desert areas to watch for illegal dumpers.