MESA, Ariz. – A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Maricopa County authorities over their interpretation of an Arizona law aimed at cracking down on human smugglers.
Community groups, state representatives and professors allege in the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that county officials are misusing the statute when they charge illegal immigrants with "conspiring to transport themselves" and violating the constitutional rights to due process and to bar unreasonable search and seizure.
The group also claimed the county's enforcement policy is "a scheme to control international borders."
They blame Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio specifically for using the policy "to garner media attention" and "further their political fortunes" by criticizing federal authorities' ability to control immigration.
Arpaio said he had not yet seen the lawsuit but added that he was "going to continue enforcing the law and continue arresting illegals under this new law."
The anti-smuggling statute went into effect this year.
Since March, Arpaio said his officers have made 360 arrests and there have been 180 convictions under the new law.
County Attorney spokesman Bill FitzGerald said Thomas would respond to the lawsuit in court.
The six immigrants represented in the lawsuit were never previously charged with criminal offenses but were arrested, detained and charged under the county's policy.
Charges are pending for each. Two were deported, two remain in jail and two were released on bail, according to the complaint.