Arpaio's immigration sweep to continue today

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PHOENIX -- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has launched another of his controversial crime suppression sweeps -- the  14th such operation since early 2008. This time, however, he's calling it an immigration sweep.

The operation began Thursday evening and was expected to continue through Friday. The MCSO command post was set up at 35th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road.

Rather than focusing on a specific area as he has in the past, Arpaio had some 400 deputies and posse members fanned out through all of Maricopa County.

While the sheriff's office has come under fire for alleged racial profiling, Arpaio was not shy about sharing the goal of this operation.

"I'm not trying to hide anything," he said Thursday evening. "I'm going to make it clear right now. We're going after illegal immigration. Human smugglers. Plus drug traffickers. Plus anybody else that commits any violation of the law."

During yesterday's sweep, deputies made 55 arrests. Of those, 31 people were suspected of being in the country illegally.

This week, more than 60 undocumented immigrants were taken into custody after a high-speed chase led investigators to a drop house in West Phoenix. Twelve of those immigrants were in the pickup truck that was involved in the pursuit. The rest, including nearly a dozen children between the ages of 11 and 17, were found at the home.

The undocumented immigrants were from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and paid about $6,000 per person to be smuggled into the U.S.

At least three suspected coyotes, including the pickup truck driver who led officers on the citywide chase, were arrested.

Tuesday's pursuit and subsequent drop-house discovery just added to the total of undocumented immigrants taken into custody this month.

Nearly 80 undocumented immigrants were arrested during the first week of March. Some of those were picked up during traffic stops; others were found by sheriff's deputies at a drop house.

Last month, Arpaio launched a new program that will give nearly 900 sworn deputies training in detecting and arresting undocumented immigrants. That training includes education about enforcing state and federal immigration laws.

Last October, the Department of Homeland Security stripped Arpaio and his department of the authority to arrest suspected illegal immigrants based only on their immigration status. Nearly 100 deputies who underwent specials training turned in their ICE credentials.

Since that DHS announcement, Arpaio has plainly stated that he will continue conducting his crime suppression sweeps.

"We still have arrested over 500 people since they took that authority away," he said Thursday, stating that he and his office are enforcing state trespassing laws.

In addition to the dozens of arrested made during the operation, one traffic stop netted deputies nearly 300 pounds of marijuana and nearly 5 pounds of methamphetimine.