Image: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Jean-Loup Sense  /  AFP-Getty Images file
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who claims to be "the toughest sheriff in the United States," has plans to house illegal immigrants in a "tent city" next to the county prison.
updated 2/4/2009 12:18:32 PM ET 2009-02-04T17:18:32

The self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America" has announced plans to keep illegal immigrants separate from the rest of the inmate population at tents in Phoenix that house prisoners.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he plans to personally accompany about 200 inmates — along with members of the media — from an area jail to Tent City on Wednesday afternoon.

"This is a population of criminals more adept perhaps at escape," Arpaio said in a news release. "But this is a fence they won't want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock, literally," he said, referring to the electric fence that surrounds the area.

Arpaio said housing the illegal immigrants separately would save money, although he did not explain how other than to say it's cheaper to house inmates in tents than at traditional jails.

He also said the move will be more convenient for consulate officials visiting foreign inmates and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charged with deporting the inmates after they have served sentences in county jails.

Aside from their residency status, he said the inmates will be treated just like everyone else housed in the tents.

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment.

County official not happy
Arpaio's announcement has appalled some officials in the area.

Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said she thinks Arpaio could potentially be violating the immigrants' rights by keeping them separated, and that she'd like to talk to the Justice Department and have staff there issue an opinion.

"Anytime you treat people differently for no reason, you stand to violate rights," she said. "We treat people equally in America. I think it's wrong."

She said the move is a publicity stunt and that Arpaio has done nothing to show the supervisors how it would save money.

The Tent City is part of a tough atmosphere that made Arpaio nationally famous. His jails also feature chain gangs and pink underwear for male inmates. Arpaio was recently featured in a Fox Reality Channel show called "Smile ... You're Under Arrest!

More on Sheriff Arpaio

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