County Attorney wants Arpaio's immigration checks restored

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Bill Montgomery By Catherine Holland Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Bill Montgomery By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- The federal government's decision to stop an Arizona sheriff from checking inmates' immigration status will allow criminals to be released into the community, the county's top prosecutor said Friday as he asked the president to order Homeland Security officials to immediately restore access to federal systems revoked a day earlier.

The Obama administration action came after the Department of Justice determined that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office participated in a "systemic disregard" for the Constitutional rights of Latinos while targeting illegal immigrants.

The Justice Department comments' Thursday that the lawman's office carried out a blatant pattern of discrimination against Latinos and held a "systematic disregard" for the Constitution brought the most bruising criticism yet to Arpaio's boundary-pushing foray into Arizona's immigration enforcement over the last six years.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the federal government's actions will prevent his office from enforcing an Arizona law denying bail to illegal immigrants charged with serious felonies.

Arpaio, defiant and caught by surprise by the report's release on Thursday, called the allegations a politically motivated attack by President Barack Obama's administration that will make Arizona unsafe by keeping illegal immigrants on the street.

The Obama administration "might as well erect their own pink neon sign at the Arizona-New Mexico border saying welcome illegals to your United States, my home is your home," he said.

The government found that Arpaio's office committed a wide range of civil rights violations against Latinos, including unjust immigration patrols and jail policies that deprive prisoners of basic Constitutional rights. "We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, a culture that breeds a systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections," said Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division.

The report will be used by the Justice Department to seek major changes at Arpaio's office, such as new policies against discrimination and improvements of staff and officers. Arpaio faces a Jan. 4 deadline for saying whether he wants to work out an agreement to make the changes. If not, the federal government will sue him, possibly putting in jeopardy millions of dollars in federal funding for Maricopa County.

The fallout from the report was swift. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it is severing its ties with Arpaio, stripping his jail officers of their federal power to check whether inmates in county jails are in the county illegally.

Homeland Security officials also are restricting Arpaio's office from using a program that uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants.

Arpaio has long denied the racial profiling allegations, saying people are stopped if deputies have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of them are illegal immigrants. He also said the decision by Homeland Security to sever ties will result in illegal immigrants being released from jail and large numbers.

Associated Press Writer Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.