PHOENIX – Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered the state to end an anti-illegal immigration contract with a high-profile sheriff Tuesday so she can pay for a larger effort to track down thousands of felons around Arizona.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday criticized the governor's decision as a maneuver to thwart his efforts against illegal immigrants.
"Dirty politics are at work right now," Arpaio said at a news conference.
Arpaio, who describes himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff" and is best known for feeding jail inmates green bologna sandwiches, clothing them in pink underwear, and making them work on chain gangs, received praise for his anti-immigration efforts from many who believe the federal government isn't doing enough to remove people in the U.S. illegally.
But his raids and sweeps of illegal immigrants in Phoenix and nearby Guadalupe have drawn protests from community leaders and civil liberties advocates. Arpaio, a Republican, has also been criticized for letting thousands of felony warrants go unserved while he chased illegal immigrants.
According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, there are about 59,000 outstanding, unserved felony warrants in the state. The majority are in Maricopa County, the state's most populated county.
Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer denied that the Democratic governor was trying to cut into efforts to stop illegal immigration.
"It couldn't be further from the truth," L'Ecuyer said.
Pennie Gillette-Stroud, the DPS chief of the criminal investigations division, said Napolitano's multi-agency task force will focus on violent, repeat criminals as well as undocumented immigrants with felony warrants.
To help pay for the task force, the state Department of Public Safety won't renew a $1.6 million contract with the sheriff's office. That contract ends May 17th, DPS spokesman Bart Graves said.