The Associated Press
MESA, Ariz. — A sheriff's crackdown on immigration and other criminal violators in Mesa produced 28 arrests by Thursday night and inspired a protest by 80 people who accused him of racial profiling.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who launched three similar sweeps in Phoenix and neighboring Guadalupe during the spring, said the 100 deputies and posse volunteers he sent to Mesa were focused on confronting a wide range of criminal violations, not just infractions of immigration law.
"Every time we do this, we get all kinds of people from different backgrounds, not just brown people," Arpaio said.
Authorities said at least 13 of the 28 people who were arrested were illegal immigrants.
From left; Lorena Venegas, and her children Miguel Venegas, and Brianna Venegas, of Mesa, stand outside the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Sub-Station Thursday, June 26, 2008 in Mesa, Ariz. to protest Sheriff Joe Arpaio's crackdown of immigration and other criminal violators in Mesa throughout the day. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Even though he has the legal authority to enforce laws in cities in his county, Arpaio has fueled a backlash from other officials who considered the sweeps to be an unwanted intrusion into their communities. The mayor of Phoenix has asked for a federal investigation of Arpaio for possible civil rights violations.
The patrols represented an emotional escalation in the immigration debate in Arizona, where people have long been frustrated with federal efforts to secure the borders.
Civil rights advocates said Arpaio was creating an environment of fear for many Hispanics, while supporters said he was one of a few local and state officials confronting illegal immigration.
Two other law enforcement agencies sent representatives to Mesa in response to the crackdown.
The U.S. Justice Department's Community Relations Service, which seeks to resolve racial or nationality conflicts but has no law enforcement power, sent an official to Mesa assist, but the office provided no specifics on its work there.
The Arizona Attorney General's Office dispatched an unspecified number investigators to Mesa to help its police department with any issues that may arise. The investigators weren't in Mesa to monitor the sheriff's crackdown, said Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
Legal observers working for the groups fanned out across Mesa in hopes of filming deputies pulling over motorists and later interviewing those inside of the cars. Day laborers also were warned by immigrant rights advocates against trying to find work Thursday on city streets, because they might risk being arrested.
On a street corner near the sheriff's substation in Mesa, immigrant rights activists held up signs saying "Police State" and "Racial Profiling."
Another sign had a photograph of Arpaio with a caption that read, "Serves racists, not warrants." A placard held by Lorena Venegas said, "Arpaio go home!"
Venegas, who opposes the sweeps, said the sheriff ought to focus on arresting child molesters and dangerous criminals, rather than questioning honest people about their immigration status. "All this money, whatever they are wasting here, it could go to the schools or whatever we need," said Venegas, who brought her 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son to the protest.
Known for pushing the bounds on local immigration efforts, Arpaio had 160 of his patrol and jail officers trained in federal immigration law, opened a hotline to report immigration violations and arrested 1,000 illegal immigrants under a state human smuggling law. Arpaio also is noted for his tough jail policies, making inmates wear pink underwear and take part in old-style chain gangs in striped uniforms and serving them green bologna sandwiches.
Lydia Guzman, leader of the civil rights group Respect Respecto, said she didn't believe the sweeps were intended to produce arrests for a wide range of criminal violations, because some of the sheriff's news releases on the crackdowns often mention illegal immigrants. "He thinks probable cause is someone that speaks Spanish," Guzman said.
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Arpaio said he is undaunted by the criticism. "They can say what they want, but I am going to continue doing my job," he said.