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ICE: If Arpaio continues sweeps, it will be under state, not federal, law

Now that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s federal authority to arrest illegal immigrants during crime-suppression sweeps has ended, any future sweeps and immigration enforcement he engages in will be under the authority of state law, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In an Oct. 16 conference call with reporters, John Morton, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for ICE, said Arpaio had requested new 287(g) agreements with the agency for immigration enforcement both in his jails and on the streets. But ICE declined Arpaio’s request for the task-force agreement, the deal he had used previously to arrest people solely on immigration violations during crime suppression sweeps.

In July, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced new guidelines for the 287(g) program and shifted its focus to illegal immigrants who had committed other, more serious crimes in addition to their immigration violations. Morton said Arpaio’s enforcement via the crime sweeps was not consistent with that model, which led ICE to deny him a 287(g) task force agreement.

“When it comes to the task force, we ultimately determined that his sweeps were not consistent with the priorities of the revised program, they weren’t consistent with our priorities as an agency, and that the manner in which he conducted those sweeps was not consistent with good coordination and cooperation within the communities they were operating within,” Morton said.

The purpose of the 287(g) task force agreements, Morton said, is for local law enforcement agencies to identify, investigate and arrest criminal aliens in their communities. “It has to be done with our authority. It has to be done with our approval. But that’s what its focus is,” he said.

Arpaio has denied repeatedly that his deputies engage in racial profiling during crime-suppression sweeps, and said deputies are taught to identify patterns in speech, clothing and behavior that may indicate whether someone is an illegal immigrant. But accusations of racial profiling are widespread, and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Arpaio on those allegations.

Furthermore, Morton said, whatever immigration enforcement Arpaio’s deputies conduct on the streets will be under state law, and suggested that he has no authority under federal statute to continue enforcing immigration during his crime sweeps.

“He has authority under Arizona state law to do various things. That is not done under ICE’s 287(g) authority. It won’t be as of today,” Morton said. “The only explicit grant of federal law he has from us was under 287(g) for the task force. As I said, we’re not continuing that today.”

The sheriff said that even without 287(g), federal law still authorizes local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. A statute cited by Arpaio at a local press conference and in interviews with the Capitol Times turned out to be an analysis from an anti-illegal immigration advocacy group.

Arpaio has been dismissive of ICE and Homeland Security’s statements about focusing on criminal aliens, and said he will continue enforcing immigration law during the sweeps. A crime-suppression sweep was scheduled to begin just hours after Morton’s conference call, and Arpaio has said he plans to turn over to ICE any non-criminal illegal immigrants his deputies arrest. If ICE won’t take them, he said, his agency will personally deliver the illegal immigrants to Customs and Border Protection.

“The sheriff has vowed to continue his enforcement of all aspects of immigration laws and says that the federal government’s move to strip deputies of their ICE agent status will not change anything,” sheriff’s office spokesman Lt. Brian Lee stated in a press release.

Following a crime-suppression sweep in July, shortly after Napolitano first announced the changes to 287(g), Arpaio turned loose several illegal immigrants his deputies arrested after he said ICE refused to take custody of them. Morton did not say whether ICE would take any illegal immigrants arrested in the Oct. 16 crime sweep, but indicated that the agency will be at least somewhat selective in who it takes into custody. He continually reiterated that ICE’s primary focus is on criminal aliens.

“We are going to respond to Maricopa County the way we’d respond to any other law enforcement agency in Arizona. And if they give us a call, we’ll come, we’ll respond and we’ll call it on the merits on a case-by-case basis,” Morton said.

A Customs and Border Protection spokesman would not speculate on how that agency’s officers will react if Arpaio attempts to turn over illegal immigrants directly to the agency. The agency has a station in Casa Grande, and its sector headquarters for the area is in Tucson.

Similarly, spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., would not comment on whether Arpaio had any authorization under federal law to transport illegal aliens outside of his jurisdiction.

Morton defended ICE’s continuing 287(g) jail agreement with the sheriff’s office, saying those agreements are useful tools for finding criminal aliens and removing them from the U.S. But he emphasized that under the new 287(g) guidelines, participating agencies must pursue all charges against illegal immigrants arrested for other crimes. And for criminal aliens identified in jails, ICE must sign off on all charging documents from the local law enforcement agency.

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