Update: Napolitano yanks Arpaio's immigration funding

By Ray Stern

As expected, Sheriff Joe Arpaio threw a tantrum when he found out Governor Janet Napolitano was cutting his allowance.

After first reading of the cuts to his immigration enforcement efforts in New Times, Arpaio held an impassioned, late-afternoon news conference on Tuesday to protest the governor's move with his political buddies, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers and Mesa state Representative Russell Pearce.

The story of two powerful Arizona politicans battling over the hot-button immigration issue has now made headlines from here to New York City. You can watch raw video of the news conference on KTVK Channel 3's Web site.

Typical of his bluster, Arpaio lashed out at the governor and her political allies, vowing he'd find funds to replace the $1.6 million getting taken away, and that nothing would keep him from targeting illegal immigrants his way.

"One thing you don't do is try to take away my money," Arpaio spewed. "I still have a gun and a badge."

DPS Director Roger Vanderpool

The fight is over a piece of the $10-million-per-year pie set aside by state lawmakers last year for immigration enforcement. The Arizona Department of Public Safety is the prime beneficiary of the funding, but the Sheriff's Office qualified for some, too, because it has a special agreement with the federal government. The agreement, known by its federal handle as a 287G, allows Arpaio to cross-train 160 of his deputies in immigration work with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

By last October, Arpaio's office obtained about $1.5 million of the state funds for his anti-illegal-immigrant programs, which had garnered national attention for their aggressiveness. As documented in numerous articles and in electronic media, Arpaio teamed up with Thomas to prosecute average illegal immigrants as smugglers, and deputies rounded up corn vendors and other run-of-the-mill illegals who happened to be driving dilapidated vehicles.

Arpaio then got Representative Pearce to help him squeeze more money out of the state; his allocation for the state's 2008 fiscal year was bumped up in October to $2.2 million. DPS Director Roger Vanderpool, at the time, sent a letter to Pearce noting that the DPS planned to have the whole $10 million spent by the end of fiscal year 2009, but had only been planning to give the MCSO $1.3 million a year. Vanderpool quips at the end of his letter that he hope his opposition to MCSO's request for more money isn't "held against DPS."

The switcheroo has infuriated Republican leaders like Pearce, who said at the press conference, "This is simply a political effort to destroy and to thwart what the sheriff is doing."

Which may be true. Nearly everything about this situation -- from the way Arpaio goes after illegal immigrants to Napolitano's latest move -- reeks of politics. Everyone seems to be lying, from Arpaio's disingenuously calling his roundups of Mexicans "crime suppression sweeps" to Napolitano's saying (during interviews this morning) the shift of funds "was a law enforcement decision, nothing more."

That comment contradicts a statement by her spokewoman, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, in the East Valley Tribune today that Arpaio's roundups spurred the MSCO cut.

Though Vanderpool's letter mentions one reason for shorting Arpaio is "limited funds," House Speaker Jim Weiers told reporters at last night's news conference that the DPS never told him the money was drying up.

"This is something out of the blue," Weiers said. He added that he'd like to find the money to fund both Arpaio's immigration efforts and the fugitive felon task force. One Legislature insider says that's going to be the solution to the flap between Napolitano and Arpaio: both will get their way, at double the taxpayer expense.

Arpaio said at the press conference that he was blindsided by the governor's unexpected cut. Last week, a vote by the Maricopa County Supervisors approved $1 million of the state funds to be transferred to the Sheriff's Office, though he would have also been able to obtain another $600,000. Arpaio said he had heard county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who cast the Supervisors' lone dissenting vote, "bragging" that the funding soon would be eliminated by the governor. But Arpaio told reporters he first read about what had happened in New Times.

The sheriff admitted that he was miffed at Napolitano. The two "had a little meeting" last week, but she hadn't warned him what was coming, he said. He wouldn't elaborate on what was discussed.

"I just want my money back," Arpaio said. "I want her to double it." (Note the emphasis on my).

Meantime, he said, he plans to soon take his ICE-trained deputies back to Mesa, whose police chief, George Gascon, is one of his biggest critics.

"Who says I don't have the money [without the lost state funds]," Arpaio said. "I know how to manage money. We'll get it done one way or another."

County Attorney Thomas says his office is examining whether Napolitano's diversion of funds is legal. It's a question worth asking, because the appropriations bill that pooled the money states, "The $10,000,000 is to be used for functions relating to immigration enforcement, including border security and border personnel."

But Napolitano's position seems safe on this one: Just as Arpaio's "crime-suppression" operations are catching plenty of illegal immigrants, a portion of the 48,000 fugitive felons in Maricopa County are illegal immigrants--which would make the new task force related to immigration enforcement.

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