The U.S. Justice Department has started a civil-rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office after months of mounting complaints that deputies are discriminating in their enforcement of federal immigration laws, says the Arizona Republic. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Sheriff Joe Arpaio yesterday about the investigation, which will focus on whether deputies are engaging in “patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures.” An expert said it is the first such investigation of immigration enforcement.
Arpaio, who denies that deputies are illegally profiling as part of his immigration crackdowns, said he welcomes the investigation and intends to cooperate fully. Last year, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon asked for a federal investigation of possible civil-rights abuses. Last month, four key Democratic members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to investigate Arpaio. The lawmakers said Arpaio had exceeded the limits of a federal program that gives local police federal immigration-enforcement powers by ordering deputies to “scour” Latino neighborhoods looking for illegal immigrants based on skin color. Arpaio, who was easily re-elected to a fifth term in November, called the investigation politically motivated and vowed to continue to arrest illegal immigrants.