Three federal agencies are examining the Maricopa County sheriff's anti-illegal immigration enforcement effort to determine if deputies have followed civil rights and other regulations.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will launch an audit of its partnership with the sheriff's office later this month, said Vincent Picard, the federal agency's Arizona spokesman.
The increased scrutiny comes as a growing number of community activists and some elected officials have called on the federal government to intervene in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's operations targeting illegal immigrants. Critics say deputies' tactics include racial profiling, a charge that sheriff's officials strongly deny.
ICE joins the Government Accountability Office and the FBI in examining the sheriff's immigration enforcement practices.
Arpaio dismissed reviews by ICE and the GAO, Congress' federal government watchdog, as routine.
"They're just auditing our program and I have no concern with it at all, believe me," Arpaio said Thursday.
The sheriff said he doesn't know anything about an FBI investigation.
ICE's audit will review every aspect of the immigration agency's partnership with MCSO, which certifies 160 deputies as federal agents, Picard said. The sheriff's office has the largest number of local police officers working as federal immigration agents in the nation.
The audit will examine both MCSO and how ICE's Arizona office has overseen the deputies' immigration work.
"This is coming from Washington," Picard said.
Meanwhile, an FBI investigation into whether the sheriff's office is violating residents' civil rights appears to be ongoing, according to the director of a local civil rights organization.
Lydia Guzman, director of Respect/Respecto, said FBI agents have interviewed about 12 people who her organization has directed toward the federal agency. At least one interview was conducted as recently as two weeks ago, she said Thursday.
FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, in keeping with FBI policy, declined to confirm or deny whether agents are conducting an investigation into Arpaio, MCSO or any other possible subject.
Though unaware of an FBI investigation, Arpaio said he supports such a probe.
"If they have any complaints against this office, this sheriff, go to the FBI. I recommend it. I encourage it," Arpaio said.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said during the summer that agency officials were monitoring MCSO's illegal immigration enforcement operations, but declined to elaborate.
Congress' review is also ongoing.
GAO officials spent several weeks in March reviewing the sheriff's immigration enforcement operations, Picard said.
Laura Kopelson, a GAO spokeswoman, said the agency is looking to determine how ICE oversees 29 of its local police partners and what those partnerships have resulted in.
A Tribune investigation into some of the same issues found that MCSO's large-scale operations targeting illegal immigrants, often referred to as "crime suppression sweeps," violate federal regulations intended to prevent racial profiling. A six-month investigation into MCSO's illegal immigration enforcement effort, published in July, looked at, among other things, the federal government's requirements for local law enforcement agencies that operate under the so-called 287(g) authority.
ICE's contract with the sheriff's office requires that deputies obtain "reliable, empirical data" showing serious crime is taking place in an area before conducting major crackdowns.
But MCSO officials acknowledge they have not had such specific evidence prior to their sweeps and regularly just go where business owners or political leaders have asked them to go. E-mails between MCSO and ICE that served as arrest reports to the federal agency also confirmed that MCSO's operations are based on anecdotes and requests from businesses and politicians, not on specific evidence such as 911 calls or police reports.
Arpaio said Thursday none of the scrutiny will affect his immigration enforcement efforts.
"I'm not stopping," he said. "We're out there arresting illegals every day."