An Arizona prosecutor planned no immediate action to address federal government concerns that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office committed widespread constitutional violations and discrimination against Latinos, saying Friday that the U.S. Justice Department report wouldn't be taken at "face value."
Instead, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's decision to stop Arpaio from checking inmates' immigration status and argued it would allow criminals to be released into the community. Montgomery said he was asking President Barack Obama to order the restoration of access to federal systems revoked Thursday.
The Obama administration action came after the Justice Department determined Arpaio's office participated in a "systematic disregard" for the Constitutional rights of Latinos while targeting illegal immigrants, bringing the most bruising criticism yet to the lawman's boundary-pushing foray into Arizona's immigration enforcement. Maltreatment of Spanish-speakers in the jails also violated the constitution, federal officials alleged.
The fallout from the report was swift as Homeland Security officials announced the department is severing ties with Arpaio.
"They don't need to do this," Montgomery said at a news conference. "This effort at leverage is placing Arizona citizens at risk."
Napolitano issued a statement Thursday saying federal resources would be used to identify those "who meet U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) immigration enforcement priorities."
Department officials also are restricting Arpaio's office from using a program that uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants.
Deputies will still send fingerprints of those being booked to the FBI, which will relay them to immigration agents.
Obama administration officials disputed Montgomery's assertions, pointing out that they will be pushing to put immigration officers back in Arpaio's jails to make sure criminal aliens are identified. They pointed to a statement Napolitano issued Thursday saying federal resources would be used to identify those "who meet U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) immigration enforcement priorities."
But Montgomery said there was no issue raised by the Justice Department about misuse of the federal authority and the county should be allowed to continue checking jailed suspects for immigration violations. Arizona law requires that illegal immigrants accused of serious crimes be held without bond, and losing that authority could lead to people being released who should be held.
Montgomery also questioned the timing of the Justice Department's findings, because a civil rights case that raises similar issues is currently before a federal judge in Phoenix. But he acknowledged they raised significant issues, although he "is not going to accept the findings at face value."
"Nor am I going to reject them," he said.
Montgomery said he will ask the Justice Department to provide him with more specific information so he can do his own review of cases now in his office.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a letter to Montgomery Thursday that ICE also planned to stop its agents from responding to traffic stops or other minor offenses by the sheriff's office and to remove any immigration detainees from the sheriff's jails.
"We need this program. Issues with the county sheriff's office, political or otherwise, should not prevent the people of Maricopa county, 4 million, from being able to be served by the 287g program," Montgomery said.
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.
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.