Probably no public figure in Arizona inspires more devotion and loyalty from his supporters and more hatred from his critics than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The five-term sheriff, who touts himself as America’s toughest, was controversial even before he began focusing his energy on illegal immigration several years ago. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating him, and a familiar face, former governor and current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, is making changes to the federal program he uses for many of his anti-illegal immigration activities.
But Arpaio is as defiant as ever, refuting the many allegations against him and scolding his critics. The sheriff spoke with the Arizona Capitol Times about friction between him and the federal government, his controversial use of state laws passed to target human smugglers, and his relationship with Napolitano. The only topic Arpaio did not expound on at length was the recent legal troubles of a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office official accused of violating campaign laws.
Due to recent changes to the 287(g) program by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, you had to turn loose several illegal immigrants arrested in your last crime suppression sweep. Will you have to continue letting people go after arresting them on immigration charges?
It’s interesting. It was three the first night, where we called (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). … It was ICE that told us not to book them like we normally did on our last nine. But what’s interesting – and then the next night we released seven more, pursuant to their instructions, even though we’re trained under the 287(g).
But what’s interesting, we just completed another raid on a business establishment, Royal Paper. We took those (illegal immigrants) in. These are people who have not been charged with a crime. Those that I charged with a crime, they can’t tell me to release them. Now, we had about 35 people who we arrested, the majority being charged with identity theft. But the other five, six, we did arrest them with no crime. So one day they’re saying “no,” the next day they’re saying, “yes.” So I wonder what the politics are involved in this situation.
On the 287(g), the only reason I signed an agreement, because the Legislature about three years ago passed the human smuggling law, and I supported that. And I went to the county attorney for an opinion whether we can also arrest the co-conspirators. And of course he gave the right opinion. So we’ve arrested almost 1,600 on the human smuggling aspect, and we’re the only law enforcement agency doing that. Sixteen hundred class four felons, I think, is a pretty good record. Because that law was passed, I decided to join forces with ICE and sign the agreement.
Your use of Arizona’s human smuggling law to prosecute illegal immigrants as co-conspirators has been quite controversial. Why use the law in that manner? Where is the good in doing so?
First of all, there’s many people leaving Maricopa County and heading back to Mexico or other areas because they don’t like the sheriff enforcing the illegal immigration laws. … I’ll take credit for everything we’ve done in the jail, keeping all these illegals in jail. When you look at it, about 2,000 are in the jail today for all different types of crime; 56 in jail for alleged murders – I’m talking about illegals – so if you have 2,000 people in the jail on an average out of 10,000, that’s 20 percent of people in the jail for all different types of crimes, murder all the way down, that are here illegally. Why don’t people understand that?
So the bottom line is that they just don’t want this sheriff – they, certain politicians and law enforcement – enforcing the illegal immigration laws.
Is there a difference between illegal immigrants whose only crime is being in the U.S. illegally, and those who are committing other crimes as well?
I don’t see what the difference is. We go after DUIs on these big sweeps. A lot of DUIs are busted for the first time. … We put them in jail. We go after hookers. Sixty percent of the people booked into our jail by law enforcement, by the way, are misdemeanors. So if everybody’s saying we should concentrate on all the violent criminals, what about the 60 percent in jail who are not violent criminals or felons.
This is a cop out to take the emphasis away from enforcing the illegal immigration laws by law enforcement and by politicians. So if they don’t like our suppression operations, then we ought to stop the DUI suppression, hookers, even in Tempe go after all the homeless people, lock them up. So why am I taking the heat because I’m going after – the majority are felons who we investigate pursuant to our duties.
But the ones who are arrested only on illegal immigration charges, are they contributing in any other way to crime rates?
Other than being already a criminal? Yeah, they’re contributing. They’re already criminals, just like a hooker. OK? I mean, why do we treat them different when they’re already criminals for crossing that border coming here. So are they contributing to the crime rate? Yeah, every one of them is increasing the crime rate by being here illegally, if you want to look at it that way.
However, I think they’re contributing to our economic situation, because all those that we arrest in the workplace, those jobs could’ve gone to U.S. citizens. So when the president and everybody makes a big deal that we’ve got nine and a half percent unemployment, well why don’t we get rid of the 10 million that are here illegally, are criminals taking jobs of U.S. citizens then? That should be the big argument today when people are being laid off and will do anything (for work).
And when certain politicians say they have to do it because nobody else will do the job. Oh, is that right? When we just raided the Royal (Paper Company), people – U.S. citizen – started going and saying, “I need a job, please give me a job.” So don’t give me another cop out that nobody else will do the job. That’s not true.
*That’s the stance DHS has taken lately with its changes to the 287(g) program. They want the focus to be on illegal immigrants who are committing other crimes. Why do you think they’re changing that focus?
Because they want amnesty. They don’t want to arrest illegals in workplaces. No, their focus is to get the employer. The one we just did, we didn’t get the employer. But we got 30 others workers. They don’t want those people arrested. They’re using the emphasis to go after the employers. They use the emphasis of we’re going to go after the violent criminals here illegally. Why are they doing that? Because they don’t want to crack down on those here illegally. Because they want amnesty next year. They’re going to … try to make them U.S. citizens. That’s what it’s all about.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas recently cited a documented 25 percent reduction in crime as the result of a reduction in the number of illegal immigrants in Phoenix. But how much of that reduction in the number of illegal aliens is simply due to economic forces driving people back to their native countries, as opposed to your enforcement of immigration law?
I think I just explained part of it – they’re not getting back on the street. They can’t commit another crime. Recidivism, unfortunately, is like 50, 60 percent. And that’s across the nation, not just here. So if they can’t get released and they have to stay in jail because you can’t make bond – so they don’t have to get out on bond to raise money to pay their lawyers. They can’t.
So when you keep them in jail, it does reduce crime. Now, that’s the only real law, other than murder and a few others, where you can’t make bond. But this is an illegal immigration (law) and the Legislature passed that. If it’s a class four felony when you are illegal, you have to stay in jail until your (case) is adjudicated.
Have you signed the new memorandum of understanding DHS is requiring of all 287(g) participants?
No, I have not. I’m looking into it. We’ll see how it pans out. I have some more suppression operations in line, so if you think I’m backing down because of the U.S. Justice Department Attorney General Civil Rights Division going after me for allegedly racial profiling, I’m not backing down. I think I proved that. I think since they made the issue publicly known, I think we’ve locked up three, four hundred more since then.
If you don’t sign the new MOA, or even if you do, what effect will this have on your enforcement of immigration law?
It doesn’t have any effect, because I’m still going to do them. I’m still going to lock up illegals, pursuant to our duties. If they’re caught violating laws they’re still going to jail. As I say, the majority of people we put in jail are people who have warrants or other violations. They just happen to be illegal. Our policy is automatically you go to jail. We don’t give them tickets to go to court, which I would like to know the percentage that really report to court when they’re illegal. You really think they’re going to report? They’re heading south. So that’s a fallacy, too. It’s just another get-out-of-jail-free pass when you give them a summons to report for court when they are illegally here. Where do you think they’re going?
Can your crime suppression sweeps and other immigration enforcement activities continue under Arizona law?
Yeah, and I might be enforcing the federal law in another aspect without the 287(g), which kind of restricts us.
How does the 287(g) program restrict your ability to do that?
Because we’re under their supervision and policy. Because we signed that agreement and when you’re enforcing the illegal immigration laws acting as an ICE agent, when we do that we’re under the authority of the federal government at that moment.
But can you enforce federal law without federal authorization?
I think we’ve got a way of doing it, and I think as time goes on – the Legislature almost had the trespassing law go through, except six Republicans walked out and did not vote. But I think that’s going to be revisited by Sen. (Russell) Pearce, and that gives us the state authority to do the trespassing-type operations. But I still have a way of enforcing the immigration so-called sweep operations. So it really doesn’t make much difference.
They’re the ones who are going to lose. If I don’t sign that agreement, what about the almost 30,000 people who we have investigated in our jails and proved they’re illegal? Who’s going to do that? It’ll take ICE about 80 agents to do the job that we are doing, free of charge, helping them out. They’re not helping us. And the only reason we’re helping them is a matter of public safety.
These new directives from DHS on the 287(g) program come from someone quite familiar to you, former Governor Janet Napolitano. Tell me about your relationship with her.
We came on the job together. In 1993, she was appointed U.S. attorney by Bill Clinton. I’m a little surprised she supported Obama instead of Hillary, but that’s another (matter). But Bill Clinton appointed her U.S. attorney and I became the sheriff. … Then she became attorney general for four years. Then she became governor for six years. So I’ve had a good relationship with her, not that I reported to her.
People accuse me of endorsing her when she ran for governor the first time. I never endorsed her. I defended her. When I endorse somebody the whole world knows about it because I brag about it. I want that guy or gal to get elected. So that’s another misnomer. Of course, McCain and everybody hopped on the bandwagon – not this time, but four years ago. They thought they had me, using the endorsement of Napolitano, which I never did. So I want to get that straight. I defender her over vicious allegations when she was U.S. attorney, and those same allegations when she ran for attorney general – McCain, Grant Woods and others defended her. So because I defended her, I’m the bad guy. But it didn’t work, because I still got re-elected.
Considering the cordial relationship you and Napolitano have had, did it surprise you to see her send down this directive on 287(g) that seems like it may have been specifically directed at you and your department?
No. … If she doesn’t like what I’m doing, if she puts the knife in my back or I put the knife in her back, I think at least we won’t twist it.”
She has a boss now. Before, her bosses used to be the people. Now she’s got the president or the staff. … She has to do what the administration wants. That’s what happens in Washington. If you don’t do what the president wants, you’re not going to be around long. Especially this administration.
The Department of Justice is investigating you on allegations of racial profiling. Do you racially profile?
As far as the racial profiling, they get a few examples from this mayor (Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon), which are all lies, and they rely on that and a few other activist groups. You think I’m concerned? You know I’ve been around in law enforcement going on 50 years. … Do you really think I’m that stupid? Do you think that if I knew that my people were violating any laws I would continue doing it? I haven’t stopped on anything. Nothing has changed. In fact, I’m pushing it even more now.
If race isn’t used as a basis to determine who is questioned about immigration status during your crime suppression sweeps, what criteria are your deputies using?
I’m an equal-opportunity law enforcement (officer). I lock everybody up. I don’t care what color their skin. I’m not going to get into all that. I’ve been through this. Even in the law itself, the federal law, it depends on what’s happening, do they speak English, what are they wearing, do they have fake ID. I can give all the ideas of why we take action. Because we stop people for violating the law, we do that for everybody, whether you’re red haired or not. If you happen to be illegal we put the federal hat on, or we take care of that state violation. It’s very simple.
How would you respond to a Hispanic citizen or legal immigrant’s concerns that their skin color would help single them out for stops or immigration checks in your crime suppression sweeps?
We stop everybody who violates the law. Very simple. If you happen to be here illegally when we stop you, then you’re going to have to go through that system.
One of your men, Captain Joel Fox, has spent much of the past year in court over an unregistered political action committee, the Sheriff’s Command Association. What, if any, is your connection to the SCA?
I’ve said this a hundred times. I had no involvement in that situation. So if you want to talk about it, go talk to the lawyers who are handling it. I’ve said it a million times.
Why are businessmen from Alaska and Texas donating thousands of dollars to a PAC to defend you? Do you have any connection to them?
No, I have no connection to them. Just talk to the lawyers, I guess, who they hired.
Were you aware of SCA’s activities?
No. It was kind of a shock when I heard about it.
Do you think it was appropriate for some of your top employees to have money from their paychecks directly deposited to SCA?
I know nothing about it. I found out about it when I read it in your paper.
What did you think of the anti-Saban commercial allegedly funded with SCA money?
I didn’t know about it until I saw it, and I’m not going to comment on it.
Did you think it crossed the line?
It had nothing to do with me. I do my commercials. People do their commercials.