The number of suspected illegal immigrants arrested under the state’s felony human smuggling law surpassed 1,000 when Maricopa County deputies arrested 25 suspects earlier this week.
The tally stands at 1,003, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said during a news conference Wednesday in downtown Phoenix.
About 150 of the suspected illegal immigrants were arrested for allegedly running smuggling operations, while the remainder were arrested for allegedly paying smugglers to take them across the U.S.-Mexico border, he said.
The Legislature enacted the human smuggling law in 2005, and the sheriff’s office launched a special unit of deputies to focus on human smuggling the following year.
“We’re rather satisfied with the results. We could do more,” Arpaio said while standing in front of booking photos of the suspected smugglers.
The sheriff vowed to continue the push to arrest illegal immigrants despite constant criticism by a variety of social and religious groups, and Gov. Janet Napalitano’s decision in May to strip his office of more than $1 million used to help fund the enforcement unit.
“I expect in one way or the other to get our money back, so we can increase enforcement of this human smuggling law. But if we don’t get our money back, we’re still going to do it,” Arpaio said.
The latest suspected illegal immigrants were arrested in two groups Tuesday night, Arpaio said.
Deputies arrested two men, identified as David Osbaldo Ramirez-Garduno, 25, and Elias Osvaldo Popoca-Ramirez, 24, for allegedly transporting 13 suspected illegal immigrants through Anthem. They were trying to shuttle their passengers to Indiana, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to the sheriff’s office.
A second group of 10 suspected illegal immigrants was caught while leaving Mesa to seek work elsewhere, according to the sheriff’s office.
The 1,000th arrest came at a time when Arpaio is facing increasing opposition for the human smuggling unit.
On Monday, a coalition of more than 20 Christian leaders from across the state staged a news conference to speak out against what they called hateful rhetoric surrounding immigration issues. They singled out Arpaio for “promoting fear” and “alienating” large segments of the community through the use of “crime suppression” sweeps in largely Hispanic neighborhoods.
Then on Tuesday, a group calling itself Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability said it will bring 200 people to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting this morning to demand more accountability of Arpaio’s actions.
“We will be addressing our concerns about the use of our tax dollars to conduct crime sweeps which have not left members of our community feeling safer,” the group said in a statement.
The group is comprised of community-based organizations, labor unions, religious leaders, students and elected officials, according to the statement.
Arpaio said he was unconcerned about either group.
“I’m the elected sheriff. I make the decisions about what to do with the money,” he said. “I didn’t know they were going there. To pray? What are they going there for?”
Arpaio also said he planned to conduct a crime suppression sweep in Mesa soon, though he declined to say when.