Homeland Security officials will make it clear in newly written guidelines that a federal program that lets local police enforce federal immigration laws is primarily for going after immigrants who commit serious crimes.
But Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Thursday that he would likely drop out of the program if immigration officials attempt to curtail his enforcement powers, including his ability to arrest immigrants for merely being in the country illegally.
That wouldn’t be the end of Arpaio’s controversial immigration crackdowns, which have led to allegations of racial profiling. Arpaio said that even if he drops out of the federal program he will continue arresting illegal immigrants under the state’shuman smuggling law and employer sanctions laws. He said he also would turn over any suspected illegal immigrants his deputies encounter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement even if they haven’t committed any offense other than being in the country illegally.
“If the (federal) program gets too strict, then I am going to have to seriously reconsider,” Arpaio said. “But I’m still going to enforce state laws, and when we come across illegal immigrants, we are going to take action.”
ICE officials are rewriting the rules of the program, known as 287(g), in response to a federal report that found the program lacks clear goals about what kinds of criminals should be targeted. The report by the Government Accountability Office also found that the program fails to supervise local officers and does not detail what kind of crime and arrest data local agencies should be collecting.
The new rules and agreements will clarify that program participants are to focus on undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes, such as assault, rape or murder.
“I like it the way it is now,” Arpaio said of the two-year-old agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The two-pronged agreement allows sheriff’s deputies to identify and arrest illegal immigrants they encounter on the street while investigating other crimes. It also allows jail officials to place immigration holds on inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.
“I signed up not for the jail (portion of the agreement), I signed up to enforce the laws on the street. That is where the action is,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio does not need the ICE agreement to continue his immigration raids. He has classified all of his neighborhood crime sweeps and worksite raids as an enforcement of state laws, not federal immigration laws. He says, and ICE has agreed in the past, that the agreement doesn’t apply to those raids, even though deputies cross-trained as immigration agents frequently arrest people on immigration violations during those operations.
Michael Keegan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, declined to respond to Arpaio’s comments. He said that while the rewritten agreements will continue to allow local police trained to enforce immigration laws to arrest any illegal immigrants they encounter, the agreements will emphasize a focus on those who commit serious crimes.
Keegan said the rewritten agreements also will call for better supervision and data collection of local police enforcing immigration laws.
With 160 deputies and jail officers trained to enforce immigration laws, Arpaio is the largest participant in the rapidly growing program. His officers have arrested about 1,500 illegal immigrants under the program, and placed immigration holds on more then 22,000 inmates. Four Democratic senators have called for an investigation of Arpaio’s sweeps, concerned about accusations that deputies are unconstitutionally looking for illegal immigrants based on race and primarily target immigrants for traffic violations and other minor offenses.
DHS does not have data that shows whether the majority of immigrants arrested by Arpaio’s deputies committed serious or minor crimes but the department plans to request that data from ICE, Keegan said.