PHOENIX — The mayor wants the FBI to investigate whether the local county sheriff has violated any civil rights laws with his recent high-profile crackdowns on illegal immigrants.
The "saturation patrols" have drawn protests from civil rights and immigrant-rights advocates, but they have drawn support from backers of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and from people who believe the government hasn't done enough against illegal immigration.
In an April 4 letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Mayor Phil Gordon asked the agency and the Justice Department's civil rights division to examine what he called discriminatory harassment and improper stops, searches, and arrests by sheriff's deputies in Maricopa County, which encompasses the metropolitan area.
"Over the past few weeks, Sheriff Arpaio's actions have infringed on the civil rights of our residents," Gordon wrote. "They have put our residents' well-being, and the well-being of law enforcement officers, at risk."
Justice Department officials said they would review Gordon's letter but declined to comment further.
Sheriff: ‘We don’t profile’
Arpaio said it's ironic that Gordon wrote the letter the same day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials observed his deputies arresting residents and illegal immigrants in the town of Guadalupe and approved of the sheriff's work.
"I think the mayor is disconnected from the people he represents and he doesn't get the point," Arpaio said Saturday. "Now he's going to Washington to confuse the issue and try to get the public against me."
The mayor "is degrading my office and my deputies by insinuating that they're violating all these civil laws. We don't profile," the sheriff said.
In the past month, sheriff's deputies and trained volunteers have gone into neighborhoods with large Hispanic populations, stopping people for routine traffic violations and asking some of them about their immigration status. Dozens of illegal immigrants have been detained.
ICE officials say Arpaio is not violating the formal agreement he has with their office that allows sheriff's deputies to enforce immigration laws.
Last week, the Arizona Ecumenical Council and American Jewish Committee issued a joint letter saying the patrols "evoked a 'police state' atmosphere" and led to "detainment on the basis of a racial profile and dehumanization of innocent people."
They were joined Friday by the Arizona chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, which echoed calls for a Justice Department investigation.
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