July 29: An illegal immigrant is processed by Sheriff's Deputies working for Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, after an operational sweep in Phoenix. Protestors and police in riot gear clashed in several downtown locations with demonstrations against a new Arizona immigration law just hours after it went into effect. (Getty Images)
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been doing aggressive crackdowns on illegal immigration for years. And despite Wednesday's ruling by a federal judge to temporarily block portions of Arizona's new law, the former federal drug agent will continue to carry out sweeps in the country's busiest human and drug trafficking corridor.
Arpaio's tactics have made him the undisputed poster boy for local immigration enforcement, sometimes instructing his deputies to carry out sweeps in Hispanic neighbors to arrest illegal immigrants. His latest sweep was launched Thursday afternoon, when roughly 200 sheriff's deputies and trained volunteers searched metropolitan Phoenix for traffic violators who may be in the country illegally.
"It's my job," said Arpaio, standing beside a sheriff's truck that has a number for an immigration hotline written on its side. "I have two state (immigration) laws that I am enforcing. It's not federal, it's state."
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics, Arpaio's efforts are not misguided, as a total of 55,699 individuals have been deported from the Phoenix field office in fiscal year 2010, easily besting the second-most deportations during that time -- 38,569 -- in the San Antonio area. A total of 268,910 illegal immigrants have been deported as of July 13, 2010, compared to 387,790 for the entire fiscal year 2009.
Deputy Bob Dalton and volunteer Heath Kowacz spotted a driver with a cracked windshield in a poor Phoenix neighborhood near a busy freeway during Thursday's sweep. Dalton triggered the red and blue police lights and pulled over 28-year-old Alfredo Salas, who was born in Mexico but has lived in Phoenix with a resident alien card since 1993.
Dalton gave him a warning after Salas produced his license and registration and told him to get the windshield fixed.
Salas, a married father of two who installs granite, told The Associated Press that he was treated well but he wondered whether he was pulled over because his truck is a Ford Lobo.
"It's a Mexican truck so I don't know if they saw that and said, 'I wonder if he has papers or not,"' Salas said. "If that's the case, it kind of gets me upset."
Sixty percent of the nearly 1,000 people arrested in the sweeps since early 2008 have been illegal immigrants. Thursday's dragnet led to four arrests, but it wasn't clear if any of them were illegal immigrants.
A ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Wednesday put on hold parts of S.B. 1070 that would have required officers to dig deeper into the fight against illegal immigration. Arizona says it was forced to act because the federal government isn't doing its job to fight immigration.
The issue led to demonstrations across the country Thursday, including one directed at Arpaio in Phoenix in which protesters beat on the metal door of a jail and changed "Sheriff Joe, we are here. We will not live in fear."
Meanwhile, Gov. Jan Brewer's lawyers went to court to overturn the judge's ruling so they can fight back against what the Republican calls an "invasion" of illegal immigrants.
Ever since the main flow of illegal immigrants into the country shifted to Arizona a decade ago, state politicians and local police have been feeling pressure to confront the state's border woes.
In addition to Arpaio's crackdowns, other efforts include a steady stream of busts by the state and local police of stash houses where smugglers hide illegal immigrants. The state attorney general has taken a money-wiring company to civil court on allegations that smugglers used their service to move money to Mexico. And a county south of Phoenix has its sheriff's deputies patrol dangerous smuggling corridors.
The Arizona Legislature have enacted a series of tough-on-immigration measures in recent years that culminated with the controversial new law signed by Brewer in April, catapulting the Republican to the national political stage.
Critics say deputies racially profile Hispanics. Arpaio says deputies approach people only when they have probable cause.
"Sheriff Joe Arpaio and some other folks there decided they can make a name for themselves in terms of the intensity of the efforts they're using," said Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the pro-immigrant Immigration Policy Center. "There's no way to deny that. There are a lot of people getting caught up in these efforts."
The Justice Department launched an investigation of his office nearly 17 months ago over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures. Although the department has declined to detail its investigation, Arpaio believes it centers on his sweeps.
Arpaio feels no reservations about continuing to push the sweeps, even after the federal government stripped his power to let 100 deputies make federal immigration arrests.
Unable to make arrests under a federal statute, the sheriff instead relied on a nearly 5-year-old state law that prohibits immigrant smuggling. He has also raided 37 businesses in enforcing a state law that prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
"I'm not going to brag," Arpaio said. "Just look at the record. I'm doing what I feel is right for the people of Maricopa County."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.