Police State: How the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency Turned All Local Authorities Into La Migra

Alexis Estrada-Garcia of Guadalajara, Mexico, must have been surprised when the officer asked for her identification. She was just a passenger in the vehicle the officer had pulled over one evening in late February and probably did not think she was doing anything illegal.

But there is a seat belt law in this state, and Estrada-Garcia was not wearing one. That violation triggered a more obscure law, one that says a vehicle passenger suspected of violating any traffic law is obligated to show a valid ID to police.

Estrada-Garcia did not have identification, and off to jail she went. There, police discovered she was an illegal immigrant.



A couple of years ago, Estrada-Garcia would have been cited and released back into the community for her offense. But times have changed.

She was driven directly to a Phoenix facility of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. Though New Times could not determine by press time what happened to her, the overwhelming likelihood is that she was shipped back to Mexico on a bus the next day.

The same sort of thing happened last month to Miguel Molina-Sepulveda, a passenger in a Plymouth minivan that got pulled over for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. A police report states he was not wearing his seat belt either.

Neither the van's driver nor Molina-Sepulveda could present ID. Driver and passenger were arrested, turned over to ICE, and apparently deported.

You could say Molina-Sepulveda's arrest in Cave Creek was par for the course these days: He was picked up in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweeps.

Yet it was Scottsdale police who handed over Estrada-Garcia to ICE.

She was one of hundreds of illegal immigrants who ended up deported after being arrested by Scottsdale police this year. True, most of them were accused of worse crimes than "non-driver failed to show ID."

But not much worse.

Reports obtained from Scottsdale show that though plenty of illegal immigrants get busted for DUI, forgery, theft, or more serious crimes, most of the time they are arrested while doing something that nearly any undocumented resident has to do to get around in the automobile-centric Phoenix metro area: drive without a license despite previous citations, give fake names to police officers, violate promises to appear in court, or drive with no ID at all.

For minor crimes that usually would not merit jail time, the punishment is almost always the same: deportation.

The Scottsdale department was among the first to tweak its policy on illegal aliens, requiring that everyone arrested — even for minor crimes — be checked for immigration status.

Now its policy is the norm among major Valley police agencies.

But the real change for illegals is that once their status is discovered, Valley cities get help from ICE that was unheard of two years ago — help ensuring that nearly every illegal immigrant arrested by any local police agency will be removed quickly from the country.

The fact is, for all the wailing over Arpaio's heavy-handed, ethnically oriented crime sweeps, illegal immigrants in the Valley now know:

Cops anywhere in Maricopa County equal La Migra.

In 2006, the ICE field office in Phoenix was poorly staffed and had been reined in by its bosses in Washington.

Then came a new ICE leader, new orders from Washington, and more money for personnel.

As it had done in other states, ICE began signing 287(g) agreements that cross-designated local law enforcers and detention officers as immigration agents. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Phoenix Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and the state Department of Corrections all signed 287(g) agreements with the feds — as did law-enforcement agencies in Pima, Pinal, and Yavapai counties.

Combined with the state's new human-smuggling law, passed in August 2006, Arizona authorities were suddenly identifying more illegal aliens than ever.

And, as promised, ICE was there to help. Illegal immigrants are now getting picked up from local jails, prisons, and crime scenes in record numbers.

The changes, along with the new police policies, have essentially transformed police, state troopers, deputies, and jail and prison guards into part-time immigration enforcers.

And plenty of Arizonans, especially in Maricopa County, agree that is exactly what should be done. The pressure on law enforcement has come from the bottom up. It has been a large segment of the public loudly demanding that local leaders act in a way the feds cannot, or will not.

In 2006, voters approved, by 3-to-1 margins, a quartet of anti-illegal-immigrant proposals that denied bail, lawsuit awards, in-state tuition, and various state benefits to undocumented residents. Last year, Arizona lawmakers, led by then-State Representative Russell Pearce of Mesa, kicked off the toughest law in the country for businesses that knowingly hired illegals. (This year, East Valley Republicans nominated Pearce to be state senator. He faces weak Democratic opposition in the general election.) In Phoenix, liberal-leaning Mayor Phil Gordon felt compelled to lead the city's police force to a more aggressive stance on illegals.

And, of course, it cannot be overlooked that many, if not most, county residents seem to support the most draconian enforcement effort in the Valley — the one run by Arpaio, a publicity-seeking politician hoping to win his fifth term in office next month. State and municipal police do not want to adopt Arpaio's harsh techniques, but they also know that an angry public is fed up with the "catch-and-release" method of enforcement.

Even in Mesa, where a Cuban transplant sensitive to the plight of immigrants reigns as police chief, a policy change scheduled to take effect in December means hundreds of people detained by police for minor crimes will end up deported.

The biggest problem for illegal immigrants is the county jails. Before ICE cross-trained 60 jail guards in spring 2007, about 90 percent of illegals booked into the Maricopa County jail system were released into the community after they posted bond or served their sentence. Now, virtually all of them are deported.

A press release put out by Arpaio in late August touted that 16,000 inmates were identified as illegal immigrants in the previous 18 months. He announced that most were deported and that others would be deported once their jail or prison sentences were served.

It is a large number, but one thing the press release does not mention is that local police departments and the state DPS — not Arpaio's MCSO — arrested about 86 percent of the 16,000.

For aliens arrested for crimes, as well as for average undocumented workers, who together make up an estimated 9 or 10 percent of the Valley's population, the game has changed when it comes to dealing with local law enforcement.

Lieutenant Ramon Figueroa, who heads the DPS' Metro East division, says there is more cooperation between immigration authorities and local cops than he has ever seen in 27 years on the force.

The agency's Highway Patrol Division figures help tell the story.

Figueroa's district, a massive swath of land that takes in the entire East Valley and runs north to Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road, used to catch and release nearly as many undocumented immigrants as it turned over to ICE. Just this year, that figure became lopsided: 376 illegal immigrants were released while 1,057 were handed over to ICE.

The DPS' northern Arizona district figures are even more striking. In 2006, its troopers caught and released 1,202 illegals and turned over 11 to ICE. So far this year, the DPS district has handed ICE 681 immigrants and released only 107.

"It's a different environment," admits Sergeant Mark Clark, Scottsdale's police spokesman. "We're not in the business of immigration enforcement. But what we are doing is making sure ICE has the opportunity to enforce immigration."

To illegal immigrants, Clark's distinction is a joke. Like other agencies, the Scottsdale Police Department seems to be very much in the business of forcing illegals out of the country.

Near the Heard Museum, off Central Avenue in Phoenix, is the building that houses the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, where legal immigrants are welcomed into the United States.

On the second floor of the building is the headquarters of ICE's Detention and Removal Operations, where illegal immigrants are processed to be kicked out of the country. No signs for Detention and Removal can be seen on the front of the building, but the fenced-in "sally port" and white buses parked out back hint of the jail-like nature of the facility.

DRO is a less-catchy and less-publicized acronym than ICE, and the head of ICE's local Office of Investigations, Matt Allen, usually gets the credit or blame for ICE-related matters in the media. DRO boss Katrina Kane does not report to Allen. She reports to ICE supervisors in Washington, D.C.

For the most part, DRO is ICE to local law-enforcement officers. When police call ICE to inquire about an immigrant's status, or when they need illegal immigrants picked up, they talk to DRO.

In 2006, when New Times published a cover story that described ICE's myriad problems, members of the agency's Office of Investigations complained bitterly about their role as part-time bus drivers whose job it was to transport illegal immigrants from local jails or crime scenes to federal detention facilities. ICE as a whole was understaffed, and agents scrambled just to keep up with the loads of immigrants found in Arizona drop houses and elsewhere.

In fall 2006, however, the federal government boosted the budget of ICE/DRO, increasing the number of agents by at least 30 percent, says Jon Gurule, the agency's deputy field office director. The Phoenix DRO field office is now third-largest in the nation, where before it had barely cracked the top 10.

Previously, police officers calling ICE were often told the agency would not get involved in cases involving fewer than about 20 illegal immigrants. Even then, agents were difficult to find after normal business hours. If police called about a drop house with 30 immigrants at midnight, an ICE agent would probably get a phone call at home, drive to an ICE office, and pick up a van or bus, then drive to the scene.

Now it is simpler, says Gurule: "If they call us, we respond."

ICE agents now staff the office 24/7, he says. Since September 2006, ICE has responded to more than 2,800 calls from local law enforcers for assistance. The number of illegal immigrants to be picked up no longer matters, though police will sometimes be asked to drive immigrants to the facility when it is convenient, rather than have ICE do all the work.

Gurule says a new communications system expected to be in place by the end of the year will electronically convey the fingerprints of nearly all the illegal immigrants booked into all of Arizona's county jails — even in counties that do not have agreements with the feds. Many of these people will be deported, though the cost of transportation from remote areas will have to be balanced against the severity of the immigrants' crimes.

All illegal immigrants processed by ICE have a right to see an immigration judge, but Mexicans have the option for "voluntary return," which is basically a quick-and-dirty deportation. Gurule acknowledges that some of the thousands of immigrants deported soon return to the country, but he says his office has begun tracking those people and submitting them for formal deportation hearings. He declined to say how many runs across the border such immigrants will be allowed before ICE takes serious action.

Once a judge orders formal deportation, returning to the country does result in more prison time for some criminal aliens. An ICE program called "Operation Repeat Offender," conducted with the help of the U.S. Attorney's office, has resulted in some hefty sentences.

For instance, in August, 51-year-old Mexican national Victor Manuel Perez-Monroy was sentenced to five years in federal prison for returning after a deportation order. He had been busted for burglary and imprisoned numerous times in Arizona since 1983. Last month, another career burglar, caught in the country after being officially deported, was sentenced to 87 months in a federal prison.

Yet the career criminals caught and prosecuted for serious offenses are the exception. Voluntary deportations of average worker-bee immigrants are the rule.

The Phoenix ICE/DRO office removed a record 50,000-plus immigrants from the state in the fiscal year that ended September 30. The majority were low-level offenders found in drop houses and smugglers' vehicles, referred by local police or others apprehended by ICE who have no record of serious crime. Even of the 16,000 people removed (or scheduled to be removed) by ICE from county jails, most were relatively minor offenders — just as the Scottsdale arrest reports demonstrate.

On September 18, 2007, Phoenix police Officer Nick Erfle stopped and questioned two women and a man jaywalking near 24th Street and Thomas Road. After discovering the man had a warrant out of Tucson for shoplifting, Erfle tried to make an arrest. But the man, later identified as Erik Jovani Martinez, 22, put up a fight before pulling out a handgun and shooting the officer numerous times, killing him.

Erfle's death hit the already-wavy pond of Arizona's immigration debate like a tsunami. Foes of illegal immigration used the tragedy to renew a call for targeted enforcement against the undocumented.

Such action had long been resisted by overburdened police departments for a number of reasons: nabbing average illegal workers was seen as costly, inefficient, and detrimental to society because witnesses to and victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants might cooperate less with police.

Yet there was clearly some slack in the system that could be tightened. Erfle's killer had been arrested by Scottsdale police for a misdemeanor 16 months before the shooting, but had been released even though he had been deported previously. By the end of last year, Scottsdale changed its policy to make sure that would not happen again.

Phoenix police, records show, began rethinking department policy on immigration just one day after Erfle was shot, scheduling a meeting of division heads to discuss the problem.

The state's largest city already had begun to work more closely with ICE, which was developing a better reputation for helping local police agencies under its new boss, former Texas state trooper Alonzo Pena, Matt Allen's predecessor. Early in 2007, 10 ICE agents were invited to work in the violent crime bureau to help train police in immigration work.

But the city still had its "Order 1.4," which banned officers from contacting ICE in most misdemeanor cases. The order was also apparently illegal: In direct conflict with a federal whistleblower law, it explicitly forbade officers from contacting ICE even when the officers suspected a federal crime was occurring.

On October 25, 2007, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris convened a series of meetings about the policy with police supervisors. An "informal" survey of 50 community leaders and activists was conducted to find out how people might react to a change. Police did not release the names of those contacted, but the results of the survey showed that 38 of the 50 felt the city should keep its old policy toward illegals.

"The policy change would have a 'chilling effect' in the Hispanic community," stated one of the community members.

Another person interviewed feared, "The immigrant community might look at the police as an extension of ICE."

But the mold for change was already set. Mark Spencer, newly elected president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (the union that represents Phoenix cops), wanted police to have the discretion to call ICE even on civil traffic stops. Spencer took his views public, speaking on radio programs and to the news media, putting extra pressure on city leaders.

"It's very frustrating," Spencer told New Times last year. "This policy clearly detracts from the deterrence factor of illegal immigrants coming into the city."

Then, in late November, a national watchdog group called Judicial Watch threatened to sue the City of Phoenix if it did not change the policy. A week later, on December 3, Mayor Phil Gordon announced he would bring together four high-profile law enforcement experts — former state Attorney General Grant Woods, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, and former U.S. Attorneys from Arizona Paul Charlton and Jose Rivera — to help craft a new policy.

Order 1.4 was confusing and "written in a negative," Gordon said to New Times in January. It gave anti-immigration extremists "sort of a foundation to argue we are a sanctuary city. That we don't cooperate with the government."

The policy had to be changed, "but I knew everyone was going to be pissed at me," Gordon said, referring both to the aforementioned extremists and immigrant rights supporters.

The new policy, in which police ask the immigration status of everyone arrested, went into effect in May.

Mesa, the Valley's second-largest city, announced in July it would adopt similar changes.

To immigrants, the policy changes in combination with ICE's beefed-up deportation system have been a disaster.

At the Light and Life Day Labor Center in Chandler, undocumented workers say Arpaio is only one source of their troubles these days.

"Todo policía," says a man wearing a New York Yankees cap: "all the police."

Sergio Zelya, 56, a legal immigrant from El Salvador waiting for work with a group of undocumented Mexicans, says the increased deportations result in heartbreak and financial problems as family members become separated.

"It's different in L.A.," the California transplant says in English. "Here in Arizona is the problem. Everyone's scared."

Elias Bermudez, who runs the Centro de Ayuda immigrant-services company in Phoenix, says that whether it is the Sheriff's Office, DPS, or municipal police, "everybody is pushing hard to see how far they can go" with immigration enforcement.

"Truly, we have now created a police state in regard to undocumented people," Bermudez says. "And we are all going to suffer. We are losing clients, losing workers, losing friends, losing family."

Taxpayers will end up forking over big bucks from the inevitable lawsuits over civil rights abuses and, even though no police agency checks the status of crime victims or witnesses, the "chilling effect" on victims predicted by some in the Hispanic community has settled in, Bermudez says.

"All of our people right now mistrust every police department, regardless of what city it's from," he says.

Bermudez cynically notes that Phoenix's Chief Harris supposedly wants to hear from people who think they have been slighted by the system.

"Well, if they're in Mexico, how are they going to report?" he says.

Bermudez has a point, especially when it comes to possible abuses by county deputies who have been ordered by Joe Arpaio to go after illegal immigrants as aggressively as possible.

For example, take the case of Miguel Molina-Sepulveda, the man who was detained because he did not show ID after a deputy noticed he was not wearing a seat belt.

According to the September 4 report written by MCSO deputy R. Armendariz: "I saw the passenger sitting in the back bench seat sitting up towards the front and leaning on the passenger seat not wearing his seat belt."

He later writes that he charged Molina-Sepulveda with "non-driver failed to provide ID," based on the alleged seat belt violation.

But in Arizona, backseat passengers over the age of 16 are not required to wear seat belts.

When Captain Paul Chagolla, an Arpaio spokesman, was reminded of this, he responded by e-mail: "The records speak for themselves, and the individuals have the opportunity to face the court to determine guilt or innocence."

But it did not turn out that way. After Molina-Sepulveda spent four days in jail, the charges were dropped. Because of the ICE hold put on him, Molina-Sepulveda undoubtedly was deported. Odds are he will never file a complaint about the apparently invalid arrest.

A second report by Armendariz from the sheriff's Cave Creek sweep in early September details a similarly questionable arrest. About 6:30 a.m., an hour before Molina-Sepulveda's arrest, the deputy pulled over a white Ford "work truck" towing a generator on a trailer that had no registration or brake lights.

"During the traffic stop, I saw the backseat passenger sitting on the right side was not wearing his seat belt," Armendariz wrote. "I asked the rear passenger, a Hispanic male, for his identification and he told me he did not have one."

The man gave several names to the deputy, and a computer check turned up nothing under any of them. Armendariz listed him as "John Doe" in his report and arrested him. The Sheriff's Office put an ICE hold on the man — meaning he must have been later deported — and counted him in a press release as one of the 11 illegal immigrants busted that day.

John Doe will not be complaining, either.

Not that Arpaio or his supporters care about such troublesome details as the unfair arrest of an illegal immigrant. To them, the point is that he is out of here.

Though the tide has clearly turned toward more enforcement, most local police department officials believe the business of doing immigration work must be conducted with extreme caution to avoid bigoted behavior — and wasting time. The theory is, most of the effort should go toward targeting immigrants who commit egregious crimes or are members of organized crime syndicates.

Yet because it is average field officers who are collectively responsible for the most deportations, Phoenix's new policy is already under revision to deter crusading cops bent on hassling immigrants in lieu of normal police work.

Phoenix cops who want to call ICE during a traffic stop or an on-the-spot criminal investigation must first pass their request through a supervisor. If the traffic stop results in only a civil violation, an officer is told not to call ICE.

But because of the aforementioned law about whistleblowers who want to report a federal crime, Phoenix police cannot prevent an officer from contacting ICE another way.

Police consulted with attorneys who suggested supervisors should dictate how the information exchange with ICE could occur. They came up with the idea of a referral form that cops could send to ICE if a police supervisor decides that getting ICE involved would be inefficient.

For instance, say an officer grows suspicious that a driver stopped for failure to signal is an illegal immigrant. Imagine the driver speaks only Spanish and has no driver's license but shows the officer some other form of ID. Since the immigrant has not committed the misdemeanor of driving with no ID at all, he cannot be arrested (though he might have to walk home) — the violations would be civil, not criminal. But if the officer demands ICE be contacted, he or she would be allowed to do so with the referral form.

Hopefully, "the officers are going to understand the eventual disposition of these referral forms," says Phoenix police Commander Glen Gardner, who wrote the new Phoenix policy on immigrants. "ICE is going to get these, look at them, and [say], 'Great.'"

Gardner is being cynical. Despite its beefed-up forces, ICE likely will not spend much time investigating forms that detail potential illegal immigrants who commit civil traffic violations.

Though police would not discipline an officer who is filling out dozens of ICE referral forms each week, supervisors would see such effort as a performance issue, Gardner says.

"We respond to over 750,000 radio calls a year," Gardner says. "We'd say, 'Your focus is clearly in the wrong area.'"

Gardner says he has a "vested interest" and good understanding of the immigration-enforcement issue. He was born in the United States but raised in Mexico. His wife is of Mexican descent, as are the people with whom he socializes.

Gardner worries that the immigration issue will result in one of his officers going to prison because of a civil rights abuse.

Mostly, though, he simply does not believe that busting more low-level offenders will make a difference.

Though ICE has become more responsive to police, it seems to Gardner that the federal government has dropped the ball when it comes to immigration. He believes there is no good reason to initiate a deportation for low-level illegal immigrants, because it is still so easy for them to come back.

He scoffs at the supposed deterrent factor — the idea that enforcement will get so tough that immigrants will go elsewhere. He notes that people march through the blazing desert and subject themselves to kidnapping, extortion, assault, or rape just to get to this country.

The chance of deterring illegal immigrants "because we start deporting 40 people a day . . . To me, it's laughable."

Still, Gardner says, when it comes to criminals who also happen to be illegal immigrants, Phoenix PD is "probably the toughest there is."

In a May speech, Phoenix Police Chief Harris noted that the department had delivered more than 9,600 illegal immigrants to ICE since January 2007. Most were found in drop houses and among people booked for various crimes. Detective work resulted in more than 250 arrests for violent crimes and drug trafficking, he said.

DPS, ICE, and Phoenix PD began coordinating their efforts more closely last year through the Illegal Immigration Prevention and Apprehension Co-op Team, a.k.a. IIMPACT.

The 15-member team operates out of offices on Encanto Boulevard, just west of DPS' headquarters, with a stated mission to "deter, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations profiting from illegal immigration."

Since January, the team has opened 33 investigations and identified at least three criminal syndicates. It has brought human smuggling, kidnapping, weapons, assault and other charges against 125 people so far, seized $126,512 in cash, confiscated a few dozen weapons and deported about 375 illegal immigrants who were being smuggled into the country.

The team also takes the lead in investigating Phoenix drop house calls that involve violence, kidnapping, or extortion.

"Just in one week, we ended up hitting four houses that were connected," says DPS Lieutenant Bob Smart, who heads IIMPACT.

There seems to be little doubt that the team has done some good, but there is no evidence it is driving illegals out of the state.

The IIMPACT tactic seems similar to how authorities have failed at fighting the war on drugs for decades.

Without reducing demand, going after large organizations makes for impressive arrests and statistics but does not stem the underlying problem. Certainly, IIMPACT's goal to "dismantle" smuggling organizations is pie-in-the-sky, since the team cannot operate in Mexico, where many of the organizations are based.

Joe Arpaio's anti-human-smuggling outfit, the Triple I [Illegal Immigration Interdiction] unit, has also disrupted smuggling operations. In several traffic stops earlier this year, smell was a factor in stopping smugglers.

During a stop on U.S. 93 near Wickenburg in February, a deputy doubted the driver of a GMC Suburban crammed with people who said he and his relatives were just driving to Las Vegas for a vacation.

"The Hispanic descent of his passengers, the pungent body odor, and the lack of luggage for traveling also contributed to my suspicions," the deputy wrote. It turned out that the unrelated passengers were all from the same small town in Mexico and were, indeed, being smuggled.

Since Arpaio persuaded Julie Myers, the national ICE boss, to sign the 287(g) agreement with him, the sheriff has used his 100 ICE-trained deputies to hunt down illegals as though he were on a mission from God. Once ICE-certified, the deputies have even more authority than ICE agents, who lack the power to stop drivers for state traffic violations.

Deputies have combed the remote desert areas of the county and staked out highways frequented by smugglers. Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas have teamed up to arrest and charge immigrants for smuggling themselves into the country, something no other agencies in the country have ever done.

To civil rights advocates, the most egregious actions have been the anti-immigrant sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods. Demonstrations against Arpaio began in earnest after deputies started rounding up tamale vendors and drivers of vehicles with broken tail lights.

But on one occasion last year, deputies saved the life of an immigrant who was being held captive and beaten by smugglers demanding $2,100. After being approached in a Food City parking lot about the situation by a man who claimed to be the victim's brother, deputies did a money-for-hostage trade, rescued the victim, and arrested the two kidnappers.

Arpaio's tactics have netted smugglers, illegal immigrants wanted on warrants, and previously deported felons. And they have brought complaints of racial profiling. The Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has a pending lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office that details alleged abuses.

"Everyone knows" the sheriff is profiling, claims Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. "He's pulling people over for minor traffic violations and applying policy in a discriminatory manner."

Arpaio's chief of enforcement, Brian Sands, was quoted in a May 8 Arizona Republic article as saying that deputies found numerous illegal immigrants in Fountain Hills simply by scrutinizing older cars and work trucks for problems like cracked windshields.

Yet it is just this sort of targeted approach that Meetze predicts will result in "costly mistakes" for the county. In two cases detailed in the ACLU lawsuit, Hispanic drivers and passengers appear to have been singled out by overly aggressive deputies trying to find illegal immigrants.

Though a judge may yet find Arpaio's methods to be within the letter of the law, some of the deputies' actions seem questionable.

A July article in the East Valley Tribune described one apparently bogus traffic stop. Deputy Jesus Cosme, with reporter Ryan Gabrielson riding along, pulled over a van full of suspected illegals near Wickenburg for failing to use a turn signal. Gabrielson wrote in the article that the van had never changed lanes.

A report reviewed by New Times shows that deputies targeting day laborers in Fountain Hills last October found reasons to pull over vehicles only after they were identified as carrying potential illegal immigrants. Undercover detectives observed their prey hopping into vehicles to be driven to work sites and "once the pickup vehicle was located by MCSO marked patrol units, detectives would establish probable cause for a traffic stop," the report states.

Yet another case of possible fudging was smoothed over by Arpaio's partners at the County Attorney's Office. In April, a deputy pulled over a vehicle that appeared to be displaying a fictitious license plate and arrested a group of illegal immigrants. But it turned out the plate was good — the deputy had simply misread it.

Prosecutors told the Sheriff's Office that the probable cause for the stop was "still valid" and the people being smuggled should still be charged.

No wonder immigrants are scared.

West of the IIMPACT offices on Encanto, a new holding facility is under construction for illegal immigrants detained by the team. It will have four small, white cells, a long booking area, and video cameras to monitor all the action. When finished and opened in early 2009, it will be an extension of ICE's detention facility.

Men, women, and children who are caught at area drop houses or are being smuggled on nearby highways will be brought here and questioned. The smugglers facing criminal charges will be separated from the pollitos, who will be quickly turned over to ICE and deported. Officials said the facility is designed to process 100 to 200 people a month.

Despite IIMPACT's goals, it is clear the team is prepared to deal with plenty of illegal immigrants who are not violent criminals.

The 10 percent or so of illegal immigrants who live in the state "need to understand it's not only DPS, but other agencies taking an aggressive enforcement stance," says Smart, IIMPACT's leader.

It is likely that immigrants do understand that by now.

But they are still taking the risk.

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