Sheriff's deputies greet migrant workers

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

AGUILA, Ariz. --  Hundreds of migrant workers arrived in Arizona Tuesday for the harvest season. This year, they got an unexpected welcome from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Buses filled with the migrants from Guatemala and other Central American countries rolled into Aguila,  a small town in Maricopa County. The workers were greeted by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputies, who want to make sure these migrants to feel safe calling for help and reporting crimes.

The seasonal workers come every year to this area of the county, a region that produces ample harvests of fruit, like cantaloupe. With several months of labor ahead of them, the workers have permits that extend through the harvest season. Some of the workers are U.S. citizens from Yuma who have applied for unemployment insurance.

On Tuesday, deputies distributed fliers with contact information and emergency phone numbers.

"We want these workers to know we are interested in their safety while they are in the county," said Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "We will encourage them to let us know of any crimes, or, if they are victims of crime."

Past growing seasons have seen increases in crime, including armed robberies and other violent crimes, being committed against the migrant workers. Authorities say there seems to be a perception among the criminal element that the migrants are a vulnerable group because they aren't willing to report crimes.

"These folks are here to work in a legal capacity and then go back to their homes," said Arpaio. "I am not going to tolerate their victimization by criminals who see them as easy prey."

In early June, two deputies greeted about 50 migrant workers coming into Aguila at that time.

"The Sheriff's Office considers them part of the community," says Paul Chagolla with MCSO. "And we are a part of the community as well. And as community members we need to be responsive and be able to assist each other."