Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said on Wednesday he is close to striking an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would allow some of his officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
Arpaio told the Tribune of his future plans the same day a group of activists announced they had filed a federal classaction lawsuit against Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas accusing them of wrongfully using the state’s anti-smuggling law to enforce immigration.
In recent months, Arpaio and ICE representatives have been meeting to negotiate the conditions of an agreement. Arpaio said he wants about 200 of his deputy sheriffs and jail officers to undergo an eight-week training program that would give them the authority to question, detain and arrest a person they encounter during their normal duties who is in the country illegally.
“I want my deputy sheriffs to be trained so if they ... see something wrong and we find out the person is here illegally, then we will have the authority to question that person and put a hold on that person and bring them to jail,” Arpaio said.
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Arizona ICE, confirmed her office is in negotiations with Arpaio. For legal reasons, she declined to discuss the details.
Under the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act, local law enforcement agencies can strike agreements with the federal government to enforce immigration. The extent of a local agency’s authority varies. Some agencies only seek to deputize officers in jails so they can place immigration detainers on inmates. Others ask for broader powers that allow them to detain people on the streets stopped for other offenses such as routine traffic stops, Mack said.
Since March, Thomas and Arpaio have used a state anti”coyote” law to target illegal immigrants who pay to be smuggled across the border. Arpaio said his office has arrested about 340 people so far, the majority of whom have been charged with conspiring with coyotes. So far, two Superior Court Judges have upheld Thomas’ interpretation and two immigrants have been convicted. The vast majority of those arrested have pleaded guilty.
The federal lawsuit against Arpaio, Thomas, and members of the Board of Supervisors was filed late Tuesday night by numerous plaintiffs including state legislators, two professors, Somos America, the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens and six immigrants charged under the state statute. Immigrants in the suit include Juan Manuel Cortes and his son, Hugo Sanchez, who have been residing in Mesa since two pastors posted bail for them.
The lawsuit contends Arpaio and Thomas are misusing the law, which legislators say was never written with the intention of arresting smuggling “victims.” It also calls the enforcement policy a “scheme to control international borders.” Arpaio and Thomas have maintained they are not enforcing immigration, but merely charging the immigrants with a standard conspiracy law.
But Antonio Bustamente, one of the attorneys in the suit, disagreed. He said Arpaio’s plans to deputize his officers to enforce immigration is only further proof that Arpaio has been violating federal law in arresting immigrants for conspiracy to smuggle themselves.
“To me, that is not even a tacit but a direct admission they have been in violation of the law,” Bustamente said. “He understands he better cover his tail.”