PHOENIX -- The Maricopa County sheriff and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are at odds over an incident involving suspected illegal immigrants Wednesday night.
MCSO deputies pulled over a truck with 12 suspected illegal immigrants along Interstate 17 near Anthem. Deputies said they were able to detain six of them on state human-smuggling charges.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the other six, including two children, admitted they were in the country illegally and had each paid $3,000 to $4,000 to be brought from Mexico to New York.
In cases like this, in which being in the country illegally is the person's only crime, MCSO routinely turns the suspected illegal immigrants over to federal ICE agents. However, when deputies called ICE Wednesday night, they say ICE agents refused to respond to the scene.
"It's unprecedented," Arpaio said.
A spokesman for ICE said the federal government's priority is to focus on illegal immigrants who pose a risk to the public or who have been deported more than once. The six suspected illegal immigrants en route to New York did not fit that category.
"Following DOJ's finding of unlawful police practices by the MCSO, ICE dedicated 50 officers to provide 24/7 coverage of the Maricopa County jail," ICE spokeswoman Amber Cargile said in a written statement." Accordingly, ICE enforcement focuses first on serious criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to public safety, such as individuals charged with or convicted of serious crimes. ICE also prioritizes the arrest and removal of immigration fugitives and criminal aliens who have been previously deported and illegally re-entered the country."
Arpaio's deputies convinced the Border Patrol in Casa Grande to take the six suspected illegal immigrants in question.