Jail officers working for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio handed in their federal credentials during a news conference in Phoenix Wednesday, a day before civil rights attorneys will be in federal court to seek a ruling in a lawsuit that alleges Arpaio systematically discriminated against Latino residents in conducting traffic patrols and so-called "crime suppression sweeps.".
Arpaio's office organized the public turning-in of the badges after ICE rescinded their authority to run immigration checks on inmates. Speaking at the news conference, Arpaio said he was holding the federal government to its promise to send 50 federal agents to do such screening in his jail, but predicted that there will be undocumented immigrants in jail who won't be deported and will be put back on streets.
"I want to see how many agents are going to be coming to our jail," the sheriff said. "I want to see how long it will take for 50 agents from across the country to work in our jails."
The Department of Homeland Security announced Dec. 15 that more than 90 of Arpaio's Maricopa County jail officers could no longer check whether inmates were undocumented immigrants.
The decision followed the release of a scathing Department of Justice report that said Arpaio's office has a pattern of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishing Latino jail inmates for speaking Spanish. The sheriff has denied the allegations.
Homeland Security officials had no immediate comment on Arpaio's comments on Wednesday, but later pointed to a Dec. 21 letter that Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent to a county official, saying federal agents will staff the county's jails on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis and that immigrants who pose public safety threats will be taken into federal custody and won't be released, Morton said in the letter.
On Monday, the agency said in a letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl that it would send immigration agents to screen jail inmates in Arizona's most populous county. Arpaio's aides say only one Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer has worked at the county jails since last week.
Homeland Security's decision wasn't the first time Arpaio's federal immigration powers were cut.
In October 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stripped Arpaio of his power to let 100 deputies make federal immigration arrests, but still allowed his jail officers to determine the immigration status of people in jail.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press and EFE.