Police and Law Enforcement

Sheriff Arpaio's replacement says his agency won't lead immigration raids

Paul Penzone in 2012.

Paul Penzone in 2012.  (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

The new sheriff of metro Phoenix is adamant that his agency's days of taking the lead in immigration enforcement are over.

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Sheriff Paul Penzone told the Arizona Capitol Times that -- unlike his predecessor Joe Arpaio -- his office won't conduct raids in search of immigrant workers.

Penzone said his office isn't an immigration enforcement agency, but will call in federal authorities for situations in which his officers encounter immigrants who are believed to be in the country illegally but haven't committed other violations.

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"We don't have the powers that we had in the past to enforce those things," Penzone told the newspaper. "We are merely a conduit."

Penzone faces several key decisions on Arpaio-era efforts such as immigration enforcement, jailing inmates in pink underwear and the Tent City jail that was a cornerstone of his predecessor's tenure. He also takes office at a time when President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on immigrants in the country illegally, often using rhetoric reminiscent of Arpaio's tough talk on the issue over the past decade.

Arpaio was known for his heavy emphasis on immigration enforcement when other local police bosses were content to leave those duties to federal authorities.

He launched 80 business raids that led to the arrests of 800 workers, most of whom were immigrants, on charges of using fraudulent IDs to get jobs. Arpaio also oversaw 20 traffic patrols across metro Phoenix that sought out immigrants.

Two weeks after Penzone defeated Arpaio, a spokeswoman said the new sheriff had no plans to bring back the business raids started by Arpaio to seek out immigrants who used fraudulent IDs to get jobs. The spokeswoman said Penzone would still work to combat identity theft.

While immigration enforcement made Arpaio popular with some voters, the federal government and courts eventually took his powers to confront immigration.  A federal judge found in 2013 that officers from Arpaio's office had racially profiled Latinos in the traffic patrols.

In 2016, Arpaio was charged with criminal contempt after he acknowledged conducting immigration patrols 17 months after the judge ordered them stopped.

Two weeks after he was charged, Arpaio lost his re-election bid.

Trump is seeking to revive a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law.