Sheriff Arpaio's Office, in Seeming Defiance of Judge, Arrests Five Suspected Illegal Immigrants on Human-Smuggling Charges


The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office arrested five men last night on suspicion of human smuggling and conspiracy, days after a federal judge's ruling on such investigations.

Looks like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, under more pressure than ever to reform his ways, is sticking to his statement that he won't stop his enforcement operations against illegal immigrants.

Arpaio, who's in Iowa stumping on behalf of presidential candidate Rick Perry, will likely comment on the arrests tomorrow, says MCSO spokesman Lieutenant Jesse Spurgin.

In a major racial-profiling lawsuit against the sheriff's office on Friday, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued an order that restricts the way the sheriff's office can conduct human-smuggling investigations. Snow ruled that MCSO can't detain someone solely on the belief that the person might be in the country illegally.

Arpaio likely won't comment on the human-smuggling arrests until tomorrow, says an MCSO spokesman.
Arpaio likely won't comment on the human-smuggling arrests until tomorrow, says an MCSO spokesman.
Image: MCSO

The sheriff's office has been using the legal concept, (which Snow says isn't legally sound), to further its investigations on the street of immigrants suspected of smuggling themselves or others into the country.

If Snow expected this to put a temporary halt to arrests of foreign nationals on state human-smuggling charges, he was wrong.

In looking at the booking paperwork for the suspects, it appears to us that this investigation was just the sort the judge was talking about.

Arpaio had his human smuggling detectives staking out the area near the intersection of Interstate 17 and Carefree Highway last night, and they pounced when they saw a brown Chevy Astro Van with California plates that looked like it was speeding.

Deputies followed the van, noting that it traveled up to 58 mph in a 45 mph zone, and had changed lanes to exit on Carefree Highway westbound without signaling. Under these pretexts, the human smuggling detectives pulled over the van.

A deputy saw right away that a middle bench to the van had been removed and the vehicle was packed with 12 people, some lying down on the floor with no space to move freely.

The Spanish-speaking passengers were disheveled, dusty and nervous. They had no luggage.

In other words, it appeared to detectives that the group was in the country illegally.

"At this point, detectives recognized this as a human smuggling incident," a deputy wrote in court paperwork.

Based on this suspicion, they began to further investigate the possible crime of human smuggling. Isn't this method of investigation precisely what Judge Snow was talking about? Sure seems that way to us.

As you can see from one of the booking sheets below, some of the immigrants made admissions and were subsequently booked into jail -- with no-bond status recommended, due to Prop 100.

We'll check in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau today to find out how they were involved. On December 16, ICE canceled its agreement to let county detention officers act as federal immigration oficers in Maricopa jails and announced that 50 ICE agents would be assigned to the jail to take up the slack.

Arpaio wrote in an opinion article published yesterday in USA Today that the federal government was trying to put MCSO "out of the illegal immigration enforcement business" because of politics.

It's just one more of Arpaio's silly conspiracy theories. Everyone's against him, he thinks -- from civil rights leaders to the Justice Department to judges like Snow, who was appointed by President Bush.

Busting more Mexicans, he supposes, might help convince his supporters that he's right.

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