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Sheriff Arpaio Claims He Can Arrest Illegal Immigrants Even Without Federal Authority

Unhappy that the federal government took away some of his powers to enforce immigration law, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona last week cited a non-existent law to support his claim that he can continue to arrest illegal immigrants on the street anyway, The Arizona Republic reports.

Under the controversial 287(g) program, Arpaio had been allowed to check a suspect’s immigration status on the street as well as in jail after an arrest, and turn illegal immigrants over to federal authorities for deportation. But given that he’s faced a slew of lawsuits for abuse of that power, plus a civil rights investigation by the federal government, DHS recently revoked part of Arpaio’s authority.

Last week at a news conference, he distributed a document that cited a law that doesn’t exist and included a legal interpretation of federal law that came from a restrictionist group that’s been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Center for Immigration Studies had posted on its web site in 1999 a legal interpretation that said “state and local law-enforcement officials have the general power to investigate and arrest violators of federal immigration statutes without prior INS knowledge or approval, as long as they are authorized to do so by state law,” and that “evasive, nervous, or erratic behavior; dress or speech indicating foreign citizenship; and presence in an area known to contain a concentration of illegal aliens” is enough to constitute reasonable suspicion to authorize law police action. Arpaio used that language to justify continuing to arrest people he suspected of being illegal immigrants but who were not violating state criminal laws.

Arpaio had originally said he got the legal interpretation from a Cornell University Website, but a Cornell law professor told The Arizona Republic that the school’s Website contains no such thing, and that there actually is no law that says what Arpaio claimed in the document he distributed.

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