PHOENIX (AP) — Dozens of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail officers lined up at a news conference in Phoenix Wednesday to ceremoniously hand in their federal credentials a week after they were stripped of the ability to verify the immigration status of inmates.
Arpaio spoke at the same news conference, saying he's going to hold the federal government to its promise to send 50 federal agents to do such screening in his jail. But he predicted there will be illegal immigrants in jail who won't be deported and will be put back on streets.
"I want to see how many agents are going to be coming to our jail," the sheriff said. "I want to see how long it will take for 50 agents from across the country to work in our jails."
The Department of Homeland Security announced Dec. 15 that more than 90 of Arpaio's Maricopa County jail officers could no longer check whether inmates were in the county illegally.
The decision followed the release of a scathing Department of Justice report that said Arpaio's office has a pattern of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish. The sheriff has denied the allegations.
Homeland Security officials had no immediate comment on Arpaio's comments on Wednesday, but later pointed to a Dec. 21 letter that Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent to a county official, saying federal agents will staff the county's jails on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis and that immigrants who pose public safety threats will be taken into federal custody and won't be released, Morton said in the letter.
On Monday, the agency said in a letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl that it would send immigration agents to screen jail inmates in Arizona's most populous county. Arpaio's aides say only one Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer has worked at the county jails since last week.
Homeland Security's decision wasn't the first time Arpaio's federal immigration powers were cut.
In October 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stripped Arpaio of his power to let 100 deputies make federal immigration arrests, but still allowed his jail officers to determine the immigration status of people in jail.