The controversial agreement that authorized Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies to act as federal immigration agents on the streets appears to have ended, Arpaio said late Friday afternoon.
The sheriff said he signed a new agreement Friday that will allow deputies and detention officers to continue screening every inmate booked into Maricopa County jails to determine their immigration status. But he said federal authorities had not offered an agreement to extend Arpaio’s street-level immigration enforcement.
“This just includes the jail, and deep down, I feel that I ought to take it and rip it all up,” Arpaio said. “On the other hand, I feel it’s very critical to have the jail.”
Federal officials on Friday refused to comment on the agreement.
The jail-screening effort helped officials catch nearly 30,000 illegal immigrants since the program began in February 2007, but it was the street-level enforcement that caused the most controversy and produced less substantial results, capturing about 264 illegal-immigration suspects.
Without an agreement that authorizes immigration screenings on the street, deputies will need probable cause to detain a suspected illegal immigrant until federal agents can determine the suspect’s immigration status.
“He’s not going to be able to arrest people for those kind of routine civil-immigration violations,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona.
The Sheriff’s Office had been operating under an umbrella agreement that authorized the street-level enforcement and jail operations, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced in July that all the contracts with local law-enforcement agencies were under review. Federal officials have come under increasing pressure from civil-rights, labor, religious and pro-immigrant groups to end the program, known as 287(g), because of fears of racial profiling.
Arpaio said he had been prepared to sign a new umbrella agreement, which stressed a focus on enforcing immigration laws only in cases of serious crimes, before ICE’s Oct. 15 deadline.
Then, ICE’s deputy assistant secretary for operations, Alonzo Pena, came to Phoenix late last week and presented the sheriff with a contract that would authorize the operations to continue only in the jails. Attorneys for the Sheriff’s Office tried to contact ICE administrators for the past week to determine the outcome of the street-level agreement but failed to get a response, Arpaio said.
With the deadline looming to continue any sort of agreement with ICE, Arpaio signed the jail authorization on Friday. Arpaio said the deal required the approval of the county Board of Supervisors, which meets on Wednesday, the last meeting before the deadline.
“It looks like they’re taking away my authority on the streets for political reasons,” Arpaio said. “They don’t have the guts and the courtesy to even come back and say in writing, ‘We are not going to continue.’ ”
A local ICE spokesman said late Friday that the agency would review all the new 287(g) agreements but could not comment while the contracts were pending.
Even without an ICE agreement, Arpaio’s deputies can continue to enforce various immigration-related laws. The state has laws against human smuggling, and laws on fraud and identity theft have led to many of the department’s work-site raids.
The news was met with cautious optimism at the ACLU, which is working with plaintiffs in two lawsuits that accuse Arpaio’s deputies of racial profiling in the normal course of their duties and in the “crime-suppression operations” the Sheriff’s Office has conducted during the past 18 months.
Sheriff’s deputies will still enforce the state’s human-smuggling law, which allows illegal immigrants to be charged as co-conspirators in their own smuggling, but a conviction requires proving clear links to some sort of smuggling activity, said Dan Pochoda, Arizona ACLU legal director.
“It’s not like they track them down six months later and say, ‘We have evidence that you were smuggled,’ ” he said.
Pochoda said the effect of deputies losing federal immigration authority could restrict what deputies can do on the streets.
“It’s more than a technicality,” Pochoda said. “There are many people he’s picked up in these sweeps under the 287(g) who are clearly not subject to prosecution under the state human-smuggling law.”
A promise from the sheriff
A Republic analysis of arrest records from 10 of the sheriff’s crime-suppression operations showed that more than half the illegal immigrants arrested during the sweeps were held on federal immigration violations and hadn’t committed another crime.
During a crime-suppression operation in Chandler this summer, ICE agents told sheriff’s deputies that they could not arrest suspected illegal immigrants who met that criteria and instead had to free them after giving them a “notice to appear” at ICE for processing.
If that situation repeats itself, Arpaio promised he will try to keep tabs on those suspected illegal immigrants.
“I may have to let them back on the streets, but I’m going to get their name, rank and serial number, and I’m going to monitor them,” he said.