Monday, June 16, 2008

Toughest immigration sheriff in US vows no let up on fight

"He's been described as Hitler and a member of the Klu Klux Klan by Hispanic critics and immigrant rights groups, but Sheriff Joe Arpaio prefers to see himself as an equal opportunities advocate. "We lock everybody up," he says.

Arpaio, the self-styled "toughest sheriff in America" has ruled his fifedom in Arizona's Maricopa County with a steely, zero-tolerance that has enraged human rights activists but delighted headline-writers the world over.

Demonstrations and picket lines follow his sweeps of largely Hispanic neighborhoods. He's been criticized by mayors and the governor of Arizona.

On a recent Mexican holiday, one group batted around a Joe Arpaio pinata, an effigy filled with sweets that children attempt to split open with a stick.

The opprobrium heaped in Arpaio's direction is water off a duck's back: after 16 years in office, the veteran lawman is showing no signs of mellowing.

"It just makes me more vigilant and go out more," Arpaio told AFP in an interview. "They ought to shut their mouth, let the system take its course, and if they don't like the laws, go out and get them changed.

"But don't try to intimidate me to stop enforcing the laws. It will never happen ... That's how I take care of business."

During nearly two decades, Arpaio has garnered world-wide publicity for creating a tent city in the Arizona desert to house county jail inmates, sending out men and women in chain gangs to pick up trash, and clothing inmates in striped suits and pink underwear.

He even offered to accommodate Paris Hilton in one of Maricopa County's jails when the celebrity socialite was sentenced to prison in Los Angeles last year for driving offences.

His latest crackdown against illegal immigrants began about 18 months ago.

He has nothing against immigrants -- his parents were Italian immigrants ('legal' he adds pointedly) -- or Mexicans, he says.

For Arpaio, illegal immigration is a fairness issue. Why should some people wait years for citizenship through the proper channels while others slip across the border?

"The minute you crossed the border, you violated the law," Arpaio said. "There's no doubt that illegals are involved in drug trafficking and other crimes. Many of them, maybe the majority, come here to work.

"Still, it's illegal to come here. I'm going to continue to enforce the law. I took an oath of office. I'm the bad guy. That's okay. It's alright with me."

Arpaio's last sweep sent 200 deputies, helicopters, and an armored car into a one square-mile Latino-dominated town, pulling over anyone with a cracked tail-light or a broken windshield.

He rejects claims that his department is targeting anyone with brown skin.

"We don't racial profile," he said. "We lock everybody up. I'm an equal opportunity guy."

About 16 percent of the 77,000 inmates booked into county jail this year were illegal immigrants. Arpaio believes that by keeping pressure on illegal immigrants, he can drive them from Arizona.

"They're heading south, or they're going to California, but they're sure getting out of Arizona," he said.

"If you can get them out of Arizona, you can get them out of the United States of America little by little. I'm not saying line up the buses, but put the pressure on them.

"Little by little they're going to leave because it's going to be hard to find a job and they're going to go to jail."

Workers' rights and immigrants' rights groups say Arpaio's policies have created a climate of fear.

Elias Bermudez heads Immigrants Without Borders, an immigrants' rights advocacy group. Arpaio's policies are discriminatory and "not conducive to a county that is 30 percent Hispanic," he said.

"He has abused his authority and his elected position to create havoc and a feeling of terror in our community," Bermudez said.

"He has capitalized on the fear and vulnerability of people who came into this country without documents, not in defiance of the laws of the United States, but because this country does not have a legal mechanism to seek work with documents.

"This is a problem of developed nations against undeveloped nations, and it is a problem that needs solving."

Arpaio's sweeps will continue as long as he is sheriff, he says.

His public support -- 80 to 90 percent approval ratings in polls -- make it unlikely he will lose a campaign for re-election in the fall.

"I get more press in one day than the governor gets," he said. "If you go anywhere in the world, all you have to do is say Arizona,' and they say Sheriff Joe.'

"Do you think they know who the governor is? I'm the toughest sheriff in America."

Who among us would have had imagined that the ultra-liberal media along with politicians looking to create a constituency could have so emboldened law breakers to the point whereby they DEMAND to be permitted to conduct their illegal activities.

Bank robbers don't have a union. Rapists, murderers, second-story men, remain anathema to a healthy America, but if any of the above "professions" are manned by wetbacks then everything changes.

I'm certainly no revolutionary, I believe in my government and its laws. There just comes a time when a man has to rear up on his hind legs and do the right thing is all I'm saying. Whatever the cost, no matter how severe the burden.

What do you think Thomas Jefferson would do...

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