Dozens arrested in Arpaio raid asking for dropped, reduced charges

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Two dozen people arrested by Maricopa County sheriff's deputies during an early February raid on Sportex Apparel in Tempe are asking a judge to drop or reduce the charges against them.

Monday's hearing stems from a Feb. 8 MCSO immigration/identity theft raid, the 71st of its kind.

A call to MCSO last year spawned a seven-month investigation of Sportex Apparel. According to MCSO, 23 people were arrested on suspicion of being in the country illegally and ID theft. Four others were arrested on outstanding criminal warrants.

"ID theft is obviously a huge problem judging by what's been in the news just this week. Illegal immigration presents its own set of problems regarding ID theft and must be resolved by Congress," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said at the time.

Natally Cruz, the niece of one of those arrested, said her uncle was working under his own name with a made-up Social Security number, not a stolen one.

The families and friends of those arrested immediately pleaded for leniency, asking for felony charges to be dropped.

"We're hoping that they drop the charges on all of them," Cruz said shortly before Monday's hearing. "These are people who have worked there [at Sportex Apparel] for more than 18 years, who now, due to these felony charges that they're going to have, ... will no longer qualify for immigration reform."

“Nobody is a criminal," said Laticia Ramirec with Puente Arizona. "They just wanted to raise their family. They just want to give a place to their family so they can eat. They just want to work.”

In the weeks after the raid and subsequent arrests, Montgomery said he can't grant anyone special treatment.

"For me to distinguish a particular category for defendants, different policies that people are asking me to be lenient on, we could be here all day trying to figure out the consequences of so many other felony prosecutions," Montgomery said.

"This is a critical moment in our community's mounting pressure on County Attorney Bill Montgomery, as the outcome of this hearing will determine the raid victims' ability to fight their deportation cases," Caroline Picker of Puente Arizona, a community-based group that is "part of the global movement for migrant justice and human rights," wrote in an email encouraging media outlets to attend and cover the hearing.

She said supporters of the arrestees planned to pack the courtroom to protest Sheriff Joe Arpaio's raids. After the hearing, they plan to march from the courthouse to Montgomery's office.

The group chose not to call the county attorney ahead of time, hoping that showing up unannounced would get them further into the building. That was not the case.

Cruz said they had tried to schedule a meeting in the past, but have not gotten anywhere.

“Not with me you haven't," answered Jerry Cobb, who works for Montgomery’s office. "I'm the official spokesperson with the office and I handle all the media questions and meetings like this, so if you email me, I will be happy to try and arrange a meeting for you."

After finding out the county attorney wouldn't meet with this group unannounced, each person said they plan on emailing Cobb in hopes of setting up an in-person meeting.

Marie Saavedra contributed to this report.