Four months after it lost its power to make federal immigration arrests, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said Monday it plans to train all 881 of its deputies in enforcing federal immigration law.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said local police agencies have the inherent power to enforce federal immigration law without getting approval from Washington.
"Once they removed that authority, I have said constantly nothing is going to change, and nothing really has changed that much, except that we don't have to do all the reports and be restricted in how many deputies we can use to fight illegal immigration," Arpaio said.
He said his office's entire force needs to be trained because he expects immigration-related problems to worsen.
Arpaio has taken a more aggressive approach to immigration enforcement than any other police boss in Arizona. Since early 2008, he has launched 13 immigration and crime sweeps across metropolitan Phoenix. The sweeps consist of deputies and volunteer posse members flooding an area of a city looking for traffic violators, people wanted on criminal warrants and others. Some of the patrols have been in heavily Latino areas.
Critics say officers racially profile Latinos in the patrols. Arpaio denies the allegations, saying people pulled over in the sweeps are approached because deputies have probable cause to believe they committed crimes.
Arpaio's office lost its federal immigration arrest powers in October, when the U.S. government, which does most of the nation's immigration enforcement, changed its rules for allowing local police to enforce more expansive federal immigration laws.
Arpaio has since conducted two more sweeps using state immigration laws.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating his office for alleged discrimination and for unconstitutional searches and seizures, though the federal agency would provide no other details on its probe. Arpaio believes the inquiry is focused on his immigration efforts.
He said his deputies will use their training only when they come across illegal immigrants in the regular course of their work. The efforts won't detract from investigating violence, drugs and other crimes, Arpaio said.
Alessandra Soler-Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said she doesn't expect much to change, except that the county will now be picking up the unspecified costs of training the officers.
"He (Arpaio) is going to continue terrorizing the Latino community," she said.
Kris Kobach, law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and an advocate of expanding local immigration efforts, is now serving as adviser to the sheriff's office and will help instruct deputies through video training.
When 100 deputies from the sheriff's office received federal immigration training in early 2007 under a special program, the federal government paid the training costs. Arpaio wouldn't provide an estimate of what his latest training effort will cost his office, which had $17 million cut from its current budget.
Kobach is "being paid by another fund" and is providing assistance to the county attorney's office, Arpaio said.
"Two birds with one stone, we are killing," he said. "I'm not going to go into it."