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Joe Arpaio, Local Police and Federal Immigration Laws

By Caleb Groos on October 15, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We've been hearing a lot about Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. In addition to his tough on crime chain gang tactices, he became a lightning rod for immigration debate by using a tremendous amount of his county's resources to go after illegal immigrants under federal immigration laws. Then the feds clipped his wings a bit. So what's the relationship between local police and federal immigration laws?

First of all, some background. Local authorities like police departments and prison officials can obtain authorization to enforce federal immigration laws by partnering with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This came about through immigration laws passed in 1996 which added provision 287(g) to the Immigration and Nationality Act, allowing local jurisdictions to enter into agreements with ICE to help enforce immigration laws. The law was intended to aid in the removal of serious criminals who were also illegal immigrants.

Local jurisdictions sign an agreement setting out what they will do, how their officers will receive training from ICE, and who will foot the bill for what. Here is a brief summery of the program and list of local jurisdictions that have signed up.

Sheriff Apaio of Maricopa County, Arizona became the 287(g) poster boy -- boasting the most officers (over 160) deputized to enforce immigration laws. His "crime suppression" operations drew nationwide attention by going after those whose suspected crime was illegal immigration (rather than enforcing immigration laws on those who've committed serious non-immigration crimes).

Facing criticism that local cops in the 287(g) program were racially profiling suspected immigrants, last July the Department of Homeland Security announced changes to the agreement signed by participating local departments.

Many, including the ACLU, argue that this year's changes to the local enforcement agreement do little to curb abuses of local authority or racial profiling. The DHS, on the other hand, argues that the changes put ICE partnerships with local law enforcement back in line with the original mission of the law -- targeting dangerous criminals for removal.

As reported by the New York Times, Arpaio signed the new agreement with ICE to partner for immigration enforcement both through the police department and in Maricopa County jails. This week, however, ICE stripped Arpaio's authority to enforce immigration laws on the street. He may still enforce immigration laws on those in Maricopa County jails.

Arpaio says he won't stop his raids. To Rick Sanchez on CNN and Glen Beck on Fax he cited a "federal law" allowing warrantless interrogation of people with erratic speech, behavior or dress, in addition to making vague reference to authority under state law.

The document he's repeatedly cited a law ends up not being so much of a "law" per se. After admitting in a subsequent interview that it might not technically be law, he explained that "I still think there's a federal law out there that gives me the authority to do this. ... I might not have the right one, but there is one out there."

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