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Immigration showdown in Arizona

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The federal government is suing to stop Arizona's new immigration law, setting the stage for a clash between the federal government and state over the nation's toughest immigration crackdown. (July 6)

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Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio
Sheriff, Maricopa County, Arizona
Wednesday, July 7, 2010; 2:00 PM

The Justice Department filed suit Tuesday against Arizona, charging that the state's new immigration law is unconstitutional and requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the legislation from taking effect.

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The lawsuit says the law illegally intrudes on federal prerogatives, invoking as its main argument the legal doctrine of "preemption," which is based on the Constitution's supremacy clause and says that federal law trumps state statutes. The Justice Department argues that enforcing immigration laws is a federal responsibility.

Joseph M. "Joe" Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., was online Wednesday, July 7, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the federal and local, legal and political battle over the Arizona law.

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Bowie, Md.: Hi Joe,

Is it frustrating to see that the federal government is not backing your state's attempts to curtail illegal immigration?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: The sad part is I spent the major part of my life with the federal government U.S. Justice Dept. Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico and around the world. And now because I'm dong my job as the elected sheriff they have launched investigations against me and my deputies in the first 60 says of the Obama administration, alleged racial profiling. Nothing's happened so far.

Yesterday they filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona on our new SP1070 law. It doesn't matter because I will continue to enforce federal and state illegal immigration laws.

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Fort Myers Florida: Could the federal government stop illegal border crossings if it wanted to, and is the federal government offering any joint solution to Arizona's border crossing problem?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: I was the director in Mexico City with Federal Drug Enforcement. I was also head of the FDEA in Texas and also in Arizona on three separate assignments so I have some knowledge about the U.S.-Mexican border which most politicians and critics don't have. Because of the 12 years experience it's my opinion you can never stop completely drug smuggling and illegal immigration coming across that border. However, with proper policies you can reduce the amount of drugs and people crossing that 2,000 mile border if you have the will and the desire coming from the president of the U.S. to do so.

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New York, N.Y.: If you discover that a witness to a crime is an illegal immigrant, would you favor deporting this person after the trial?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: There are certain aspect including the new law which states that no action will be taken if the person is a witness to a crime or a victim of a crime.

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Los Altos, Calif.: Why is it that both major political parties do not come together and agree to enforce strict border control and security right now instead of falsely claiming it is necessary to await overall immigration reform which might take years or forever to actually happen?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: Because it's a political, economic, diplomatic law enforcement problem and the bottom line is there's certain pressures from certain people that want amnesty and businesses like to hire illegals because of the cheap wages. So you have so many different elements coming against each other, they're bucking heads, that nobody, including the president, wants to do something.

The reason I talk like that and the reason I'm always optimistic is the fact that under President Nixon G. Gordon Liddy and I ran a field operation called Operation Intercept when the president said enough is enough about the drug trafficking and for two weeks -- I won't say closed the border -- but every car was searched coming across that border. Hardly any drugs were detected or seized.

So when the president says this is going to happen, most federal bureaucrats and politicians fall in line, meaning they get the job done.

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Syracuse, NY: How about the other way around: Would it be possible for the border states to sue the Federal government for not enforcing immigration laws and protecting their borders?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: Everybody sues everybody these days. There should be other ways to get problems resolved. Lawsuits take a long time.

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Manassas VA: I live in an area that has a large immigrant community. It's been a hot button for years. There's has been a large influx of gang activity and crime in the area. But there are those who are law abiding and here legally.

How would you balance the process of who you check and still be respectful of those who are here legally and just trying to reach the American Dream?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: We don't go after people on the street corner if they look like they're from a foreign country. We pursue illegal immigration during the course of our duties and if during that course it's revealed that people are in this country illegally, we take action. As far as Maricopa County I've been enforcing the federal and state illegal immigration laws for three years, before it became a big, recent political subject. Consequently, many people have left Maricopa County that are here illegally because they're afraid of being arrested and deported.

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New York, N.Y.: What is the crime rate between illegal immigrants and the general population. One would think that an illegal immigrant would have incentive to avoid crime.

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: All I can say is that out of the 8 -- 10,000 people in the jails that I run including a tent city jail that I put up in 1993 around 18 percent of the people in jail are there for other crimes such as murder and just about any crime you could think of, so we do have to admit that illegal aliens do commit crimes in our country.

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Reston, Va.: Would you support a pathway for citizenship for immigrants to come to work in the United States legally? Why or why not?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: I would only support a pathway if people came across our border legally with proper identification but not those who are already here illegally, which is called amnesty.

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Burke, Va: The new Arizona law says that police may question the immigration status of an individual where "reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States".

Could you give specific examples of what would constitute such a suspicion?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: I'm not going to get into probable cause, we'll be here forever. Let me just say in general terms there's several criteria to show that person may be in the country illegally.

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Washington, D.C.: It's said often in the media that you wrote the Arizona law; is that true? How do you feel when other law enforcement in your state call it "stupid"? Many thanks.

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: I did not write the law, I enforce the law. We're the only agency enforcing the other state illegal immigration laws. I don't make the laws, I enforce the laws.

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Washington, D.C. (but Arizona native): How do you deal with the fact that for US citizens, we have no requirement to carry papers? It is not a crime in this country not to have papers if you are of legal status. Therefore what's to prevent a legal resident who is not carrying papers from being arrested under the new law? Is this a violation of their civil rights?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: If you are here on a visa or any other type of immigration document you must carry those papers on your person, it's a federal law. If you are here illegally and law enforcement can show that then you have violated not only the federal law but some of our recently passed state laws.

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Phoenix, AZ: Do you think it would be a good idea to legalize all drugs in the United States and have them regulated like alcohol and cigarettes? It could potentially ruin all funding of the Mexican cartels, and they'd deport themselves.

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: Since I spent almost 50 years in international, national and local law enforcement I am totally opposed to legalizing drugs. We have enough problems in this country with drinking. Also I would not want a doctor high on cocaine operating on me.

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Albuquerque, NM: Hi Joe! I can understand the frustration in patrolling the border and dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. As an immigrant myself, I feel that we must put trust in your deputies to do their job correctly. However, how can you be so sure that there won't be racial profiling that could happen? Don't you think this law opens up this chance for that one individual bigoted officer to act on their biases?

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: I don't think you get rid of any program when it's private business or government just because one or more people may have not followed policy or may have even violated the law. I would presume if a crooked cop is selling drugs, should we stop drug enforcement or abolish the drug unit?

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Chiapas, Mexico: If the people of Arizona don't want illegal immigrants, why to they continue to offer them work?

Are you doing anything to investigate and prosecute employers who illegally entice, employ and exploit these workers?

If Arizona has taken on the Federal responsibility to enforce immigration laws, why hasn't it done the same to enforce employment laws?

Thank you.

Joseph M. 'Joe' Arpaio: There's another new state illegal employer sanction law. Once again, this office is the only one enforcing that law. We have raided 36 businesses, arrested almost 500 people and 75 percent of the people in the workplace that we have arrested had false identification, which in itself is a serious crime and they were all here illegally.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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