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Sheriff Joe Arpaio Says Immigrants Should Not Fear Reporting Crimes To His Agency

Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio poses with participants in his agency's Spanish-language Citizens Academy.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he wants to spread the word to the Latino immigrant community to not to be afraid to report crimes to his agency due to fear of deportation.

The sheriff gave that message during his introductory remarks at his agency’s Spanish-language Citizens Academy over the weekend. The academy gives members of the community an overview of the sheriff’s office over four sessions. This is the fourth Citizens Academy the sheriff’s office has held in Spanish since the first in 2014.

Arpaio has built a national reputation for his hardline stance on illegal immigration. He is under a federal court order to reform his agency after a judge found his immigration enforcement tactics discriminated against Latino motorists.

When Sheriff Joe Arpaio met with the 23 participants enrolled in the academy Saturday morning, he told them he was troubled by a recent Associated Press news story about the serial shooter in Maryvale. Authorities have linked the shooter to nine attacks in that area, and remains on the loose.

The article said some unauthorized immigrants may be reluctant to share information with authorities due to the state's immigration enforcement law SB1070, which requires police officers to determine the immigration status of people they arrest or detain if they have a reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally. It also suggested immigrants are wary of the sheriff himself, whose deputies used to detain unauthorized immigrants and turn them over to federal authorities for deportation.

With the help of a detention officer who translated his remarks into Spanish, Arpaio told the class of Latin American immigrants that he wanted their help spreading the word to their community to not be afraid.

“So anybody who wants to talk to me, I’m not going to arrest them,” Arpaio said. “Now if they want to shoot me, they got a problem.”

The sheriff’s office says it does not inquire about immigration status. Court interventions have caused the sheriff’s office to dismantle the vast majority of its immigration enforcement tactics, including immigration patrols and worksite raids. In May, Arpaio and three others were recently found in civil contempt of court for continuing to make immigration detentions after a judge had ordered the practice to stop.

The judge is now considering whether to ask a federal prosecutor to investigate the sheriff for possible criminal contempt charges for violating court orders.

Maribel Diaz was in the front row listening closely to Arpaio’s remarks on Saturday. She patrols her Maryvale neighborhood as a volunteer with a Neighborhood Watch group and was quoted in the Associated Press article the sheriff mentioned.

Diaz said before she started volunteering with her Neighborhood Watch group she was scared whenever she saw sheriff’s deputies. But she said that is gradually changing. Now she is attending the sheriff’s Citizens Academy to bring back information to her neighbors.

“We need to educate ourselves about how the laws work and what our rights and obligations are,” Diaz said in Spanish. “We want our community to be educated so we can have a safer neighborhood.”

Hector Martinez, a community liaison deputy for the sheriff’s office, recruited Diaz and others to participate in the Citizens Academy.

Martinez used to be a member of the sheriff’s Human Smuggling Unit, which has been disbanded. The unit used to be central to the sheriff’s immigration enforcement efforts. Now Martinez, who is bilingual and grew up on the border, does outreach to the Latino immigrant community and tells the people he meets that his agency does not enforce immigration laws.

“We are not going to ask the status of their immigration,” Martinez says. “I tell them it is really it is important to report crimes if they are victims. We need to work together. If you don’t report a crime, the crime is still going to be occurring.”

At the first session of the Citizens Academy, participants watched a video about the sheriff’s aviation division, saw a demonstration by the jail SWAT team, toured the warehouse where property and evidence are stored, and learned about the sheriff’s criminal investigations from bilingual deputies.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.