Arpaio's critics launch five-day hunger strike

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PHOENIX -- The Valley's illegal immigration debate is taking a new turn as critics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launch a hunger strike this morning.

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More than 100 people gathered at Santa Rita Hall in South Phoenix Sunday night to kick off a week of prayers, protests and a five-day hunger strike.

The group Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, known as MCSA, wants to draw more attention to what they consider an unbalanced focus on illegal immigration.

"Our top cop in Maricopa County should not be under investigation for civil rights violations," said Randy Parraz of MCSA. "He needs to step aside so we can have a real top law-enforcement officer who really cares about people's concerns."

Arpaio, who is under a federal investigation for alleged racial profiling that has targeted Hispanics regardless of citizenship status, has not been shy about his opinions on illegal immigration and his crime suppression sweeps have stirred up controversey all over the city and surrounding areas.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon on Friday compared Arpaio to racist sheriffs who persecuted blacks in the South during the 1960s and an angry Arpaio quickly responded.

The two have an ongoing feud over the sheriff's controversial crackdown on illegal immigration.

Gordon says Arpaio is not using dogs or hoses but he is targeting people of color.

That drew the following response from Arpaio.

"I'm an equal opportunity enforcement guy. I lock them all up so that's garbage," he said. "He [Gordon] seems to get all his information from his open border activist friends."

Arpaio, who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," defends his use of the 287g agreement he has with federal authorities, which allows him to enforce immigration laws. He says his deputies have taken more than 25,000 illegal immigrants off the streets.

In addition to the crime sweeps that have drawn so much attention recently, Arpaio is known for setting up Tent City, an extension of the Maricopa County Jail, reinstituting chain gangs and setting up volunteer chains gangs of female inmates, making his inmates wear pink underwear, banning "sexually explicit material" at the jail, and serving inmates surplus food.

Arpaio has been the Maricopa County Sheriff since 1992, and while he has won re-election four times, his critics, including MCSA, are quite vocal.

As for MCSA's fasting plans for this week, Arpaio released a statement saying that if they want to starve themselves, he's not going to stop them.