Deputies with the Maricopa and Pinal County sheriff’s offices fanned out in a wide swath of the south East Valley Thursday and will target illegal immigrants for the next three days.
Deputies with the Maricopa and Pinal County sheriff’s offices fanned out in a wide swath of the south East Valley Thursday and will target illegal immigrants and criminals for the next three days.
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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose agency has dozens of deputies and detention officers trained to enforce immigration law, has been hinting for weeks he was going to conduct another “crime suppression” crackdown in targeted areas.
Deputies will be concentrating mostly on the Chandler and Queen Creek areas.
Arpaio called the sweep a “deterrent” operation.
“I hope I don’t arrest any illegal aliens,” he said. “I hope they’re all heading south.”
Arpaio currently is under investigation by the Department of Justice and other federal agencies and has been accused of racial profiling during the crime suppression operations.
The Department of Homeland Security recently issued new, more restrictive policies for local police agencies that have officers trained under 287(g), the federal law that gives local officers authority to enforce immigration law.
Arpaio said this operation will be a test to see how the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which oversees the 287(g) agreement — responds.
Arpaio said he believes that under the new policies he wouldn’t be able to arrest illegal immigrants who committed no other state crimes.
Matthew Chandler, a Homeland Security spokesman, said ICE has made its new policies clear to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
“ICE will only concur with those arrests if they further the agency’s priority to identify and remove criminals and other aliens who pose a risk to public safety,” Chandler said.
After about four hours of the operation, deputies arrested 13 people. Two were felony arrests, and three were illegal immigrants, all from traffic stops.
This is the first crime suppression operation in which Arpaio is working with another agency.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said the controversy that typically surrounds Arpaio’s sweeps won’t reflect badly on his agency.
“I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Sheriff Joe,” Babeu said. “This is an issue that affects Maricopa County and Pinal County.”
Babeu said that while some believe Arpaio conducts the sweeps for notoriety, Babeu said he believes Arpaio understands that illegal immigration is the most pressing matter in the state.
“It’s much more complex, and we have to talk about this without being called racist,” Babeu said.
Babeu said illegal immigration problems cross county borders.
He said that since Pinal County has several illegal smuggling routes running through it, whatever he does or doesn’t do as a sheriff will have an impact on the rest of the state.
He also pointed to the arrest Wednesday of Elieel Obed Beltran-Rabago, 21, a suspected illegal immigrant who stands accused of kidnapping two women in Mesa and taking them into Pinal County to rape them.
“We’re linking it to other serious crimes, and it is troubling,” Babeu said.
Lindsey Smith, Maricopa County sheriff’s spokeswoman, said about 200 deputies and posse members from her agency would participate. Babeu said fewer than 10 of his deputies will participate in the three-day operation.
He said all of his deputies who have 287(g) training will participate, and it will be good training for them.
All agencies that have 287(g) agreements with the federal government will have to sign new agreements under the revised policies within the next three months or lose their authority.
In issuing the new 287(g) policies, Homeland Security said it was concerned that local police were using minor infractions to get illegal immigrants deported.
To combat that, Homeland Security will require agencies to “pursue all criminal charges that originally caused the offender to be taken into custody.”
The new agreements will specify the priorities of Homeland Security, one of which is to go after “criminal aliens” — illegal immigrants who have committed a state crime, according to a Homeland Security press release.
The sweeps over the past few years have angered politicians, activists and police from the cities where they occurred.
Arpaio and Mesa police Chief George Gascón have clashed over such operations taking place in Mesa.
Thursday was Gascón’s last day on the job before he leaves for San Francisco to be chief of police there. A farewell party for the chief took place at the Mesa Arts Center.
Arpaio said it is only a coincidence that he’s conducting the operation as Gascón departs.
“I don’t care about this guy,” Arpaio said. “I don’t know his birthday, I don’t know his last day.”
But Arpaio apparently was well aware of Gascón’s plans to leave this week to be San Francisco’s police chief.
A message, known as a tweet, from Arpaio’s Twitter account, said Wednesday: “I wish the Mesa police Chief a safe move to San Fran,and if I’m ever in san Fran? maybe he’ll invite me to an italian dinner.”
At the special farewell event for Gascón, the outgoing chief said he doesn’t believe the timing of the sweeps have anything to do with his departure from Mesa. Instead, he said Arpaio is simply following up on his comment to a national magazine reporter that he’d raid Mesa again because he doesn’t trust the mayor.
“I don’t think it’s about me at all,” Gascón said. “(Arpaio) said the mayor’s wife didn’t like him. I really think he’s doing exactly what he threatened to do — raid Mesa again.”
In an interview with the New Yorker, Arpaio’s reaction upon hearing that Mayor Scott Smith’s wife had said, “Joe is not my hero,” was: “I knew it. I never trusted that mayor. He’s pro-immigrant. He’s never going to fire that chief. We gotta raid Mesa again.”
Gascón said his officers are monitoring the situation. If there’s a sense that there could be some protesters, Gascón said they would prepare a staging area for them, similar to a previous raid last year.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who is in Denver representing the city at the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, said the sheriff’s office called Mesa police Thursday morning to inform them of the crime suppression sweeps.
Smith said he was treating this as just another law enforcement agency in the city going about its task. He said he didn’t want to give it a strong reaction “because that’s what they’d want.”
“Yawn,” Smith said. “We’ve got police and law enforcement agencies in Mesa all day — PD, U.S. Marshals, DEA. So I don’t know why this would even be considered a big deal.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office contracts with Queen Creek for police service.
Town Manager John Kross contacted the sheriff’s office Thursday morning and was told not to expect sweep activities concentrated in Queen Creek.
“That map was pretty wide-reaching, but it wasn’t intended to involve Queen Creek,” Kross said. “There might be some spillover into Queen Creek.”
Gilbert Councilwoman Linda Abbott said late Thursday morning she had not been notified about the crime suppression sweep but was not alarmed that Arpaio was bringing his strategy to Gilbert. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio has the authority to enforce the laws within his jurisdiction, which is the entire county, and clearly the town of Gilbert falls within that jurisdiction. The effort is to suppress crime, and I have no problem with that effort.”
Sgt. Joe Favazzo, Chandler police spokesman, said his department was also alerted about the sweeps.
The city has a special history when it comes to immigration sweeps.
In July 1997, the U.S. Border Patrol teamed with the Chandler Police Department to arrest illegal immigrants. In one week, officers arrested 432 illegal immigrants and stopped hundreds of other Hispanic citizens.
The operation met with local and national outrage, and lawsuits soon followed. In a settlement stemming from the roundup, Chandler agreed to never again allow its police department to enforce federal immigration law. And the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had not conducted any of its immigration enforcement operations in the city until now.
For former Chandler Mayor Coy Payne, the operation stirred up memories of the 12-year-old roundup. He said he hopes it will not stir up racial tensions again.
Tribune writers Sonu Munshi, Ari Cohn, Blake Herzog and Amanda Keim contributed to this report.