Minor Violations? Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 287(g)-Trained Deputies Sometimes Bust Mexicans Who Commit No Violations

The Government Accountability Office's report on a program that gives local cops federal immigration powers tells Valley residents something they already knew:

Some local law enforcement departments are using their 287(g) powers to bust illegal immigrants suspected of minor infractions instead of the major crimes the program was designed to target. As most Phoenix-area residents have heard by now, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has been doing just that. Joe Arpaio, the self-described "Toughest Sheriff in America," even touts the fact that he uses the most minor of violations to bust illegal immigrants.

New Times readers know it's even worse than that:

In last year's "Police State" article, we showed how a 287(g)-designated county deputy, R. Armendariz, busted illegal immigrants on two separate occasions who had committed no violations at all.

Busting illegals for cracked windshields, a favorite tactic of the sheriff's deputies, is even more minor than the examples cited in the Washington Post article about the report:


The report said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had told GAO investigators that the program was intended to address "serious crime . . . committed by removable aliens."

But the report said that, of 29 partner agencies reviewed, four said they used their 287(g) authority to process for removal immigrants stopped for minor violations such as speeding, carrying an open container of alcohol and urinating in public, "contrary to the objective of the program."



In two incidents on September 4, 2008, however, Deputy Armendariz lowered the bar all the way to the caliche.

During one of Arpaio's immigrant sweeps, the over-enthusiastic Armendariz stopped a work truck for a minor violation and ended up arresting an illegal immigrant who'd been sitting in the back seat.

During a traffic stop, Arizona law says that officers can arrest the passengers of vehicles who fail to produce identification -- but the passenger must be committing some kind of traffic violation. Usually, that violation is a failure to wear a seat belt. But the law states that only the front-seat adult passengers need a restraint. Adults can ride in a back seat without a seat belt.

Armendariz's report clearly states the immigrant was sitting in the back seat. Click here to see the deputy's narrative on this dirty bust.

Soon after having the immigrant, "John Doe," shipped off to jail, where he was delivered into the custody of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, Armendariz pulled over a white mini-van.

Same thing: The deputy soon had in custody another illegal immigrant. Armerdariz writes that the man, Miguel Molina-Sepulveda, had been sitting in the van's back seat without his seat belt and failed to show ID. Which, again, isn't a violation of any Arizona law. Click here to read the deputy's narrative.

Molina-Sepulveda was booked into jail and slapped with an ICE hold, which means he either accepted a voluntary return to his home country or was processed for an official deportation.

After discovering these two cases last year, New Times put in a request for any other sheriff's office reports in which a passenger in a vehicle was taken into custody during a traffic stop for "failing to show ID."

Arpaio's office produced no reports based on the request, essentially claiming these two cases represent the only two times anything like that has ever happened. 

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.