Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arpaio's crime sweep delayed by protest

Sheriff Joe Arpaio postponed a crime sweep Thursday after diverting resources to the Fourth Avenue Jail, were a protest was to be held this afternoon.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said the sweep would still take place, probably about 4 p.m.

During a news conference attended by a throng of international, national and local media outlets, he wouldn't say exactly where the sweeps were taking place.

"I'm not trying to get into any judge's face (with this operation)," he said. "But I'm trying to let the public know: we enforce human smuggling (laws), we enforce employer sanctions (laws)."

Arpaio said they are going to divert resources from the sweep to the Fourth Avenue Jail, where a protest is expect to draw busloads of people who oppose the state's immigration law.

"I got a gut feeling we will not be arresting any illegal aliens with all this hype going on," he said.

Arpaio has said frequently that he doesn't need the law, which created a misdemeanor offense in Arizona for immigrants who fail to carry registration documents, and his track record backs him up.

Thursday's operation would mark the 17th time Arpaio has deployed hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members in an area of the Valley to root out illegal immigrants. Deputies typically take a "zero tolerance" approach to traffic offenses and then check the criminal history of the motorists. Some of Arpaio's deputies who were trained to enforce federal immigration law used to be able to conduct roadside immigration screenings, but the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement stripped deputies of that authority last year, forcing sheriff's deputies to wait until they bring suspects to jail to determine immigration status.

If the deputies come across residents who admit to being in the country illegally but who have not committed a state crime, the deputies typically coordinate with local ICE officials to transfer custody of those suspects.

A key piece of the law that Bolton blocked on Wednesday would have allowed deputies to arrest some of those suspects for violating the new law if they weren't carrying registration documents.

"That would have been a nice little extra twist if we could have locked them up instead of handing them over to ICE," Arpaio said Wednesday after Bolton's ruling.

The size and scope of the sweeps have varied since Arpaio launched the efforts in 2008 near 32nd Street and Thomas Road.

A three-day sweep in Mesa last summer paid 83 deputies and supervisors to arrest 59 people at a cost of $38,387. A two-day operation in Fountain Hills in May 2008 used 13 deputies, cost $3,947 and resulted in 20 arrests.

The Sheriff's Office pays for the operations through its general fund, state funding and grants. Arpaio is not concerned about the expense, saying the deputies in those operations would be working anyway -- it is just a matter of when and where.

Advocates of the sweeps say their value is largely in discouraging illegal immigrants from remaining in the community.

However, critics suggest they simply scare legal and illegal immigrants alike and drive a wedge between members of the community and law enforcement.

While Arpaio's past 16 crime-suppression operations have captured a variety of criminals, the majority of offenders were booked for relatively minor offenses, an Arizona Republic review of crime data shows. For example, an April sweep caught 93 people, most of whom were snared either solely for immigration violations or for minor offenses. Only two violent offenders were arrested.

Arpaio's deputies have arrested 932 people in their operations dating back to March 2008. Of those, 708 were suspected of being in the country illegally, according to the Sheriff's Office.

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