President Trump will not move to pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio during the president's campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, a White House spokeswoman said.
“There will be no discussion of that today at any point, and no action will be taken on that front at any point today,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump on Air Force One.
Trump had said in an interview with Fox News last week that he was “seriously considering” a pardon for Arpaio, an immigration hardliner who was found guilty of criminal contempt last year for defying a court order not to detain suspects without a reasonable suspicion of a crime.
It was not clear whether Trump has ruled out a pardon for Arpaio entirely.
Trump's public flirtation with pardoning Arpaio prompted fierce criticism from Democrats and immigrant rights groups which have long denounced Arpaio's immigration enforcement tactics while serving as sheriff of Maricopa County. Arpaio was an early endorser of Trump's campaign.
In an editorial Tuesday on Univision's website, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez wrote: “For years, Arpaio made headlines by using racial profiling and turning his officers into a deportation force to separate families — all in service to what he called 'law and order.'”
Trump's rally in Phoenix comes a week after the president stoked controversy over his handling of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville during a white supremacist demonstration. Though the president made a call for national unity in a prime time address Monday night while laying out his strategy for Afghanistan, some lawmakers in Congress have voiced concerns that Trump might echo his more divisive rhetoric while playing to his base at the rally. Phoenix was the site of some of Trump's most passionate campaign rallies.
Before his Phoenix rally, Trump was set to inspect a Predator drone at a Yuma, Ariz., Border Patrol station ahead as he seeks to promote his administration's push to tighten immigration enforcement, senior officials said. Trump also will meet with Marines at a nearby base, aides said.
Trump aides touted progress on immigration enforcement in a conference call with reporters to preview the trip, stating that illegal crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border have plummeted 46 percent in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2016. At the same time, the number of illegal immigrants removed from the interior of the country has increased by 32 percent, officials said.
“We've had significant successes … over a relatively short period time,” said a senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as set by the terms of a White House that has regularly denounced the use of anonymous sources in news stories. All four administration officials who participated in the call did not allow their names to be used, citing the White House's rules.
Trump's visit to Yuma comes as the administration readies a new push for funding to start construction of a border wall that he made a core promise in his campaign. The White House dropped a demand for more than $1.5 billion in funding in the spring as part of Congress's deliberations over a stopgap spending bill, but senior aides have said the president is prepared to fight for the money in the fall. However, congressional leaders have balked as the idea of spending billions of dollars on a wall, saying the money could be better spent on other initiatives to boost enforcement.
Tom Homan, the interim director of ICE, told reporters on Air Force One that “the president’s message is that we need a strong border and we need stronger interior enforcement. ... We need funding to make it permanent. We need to build a wall. A border wall is successful.”
The president aims to highlight Yuma's experience with a wall. The sector had 5.2 miles of wall and fencing in 2006 when Congress passed legislation to boost wall funding; Yuma now has 63 miles of wall, officials said, and illegal border crossings in the sector have fallen by 83 percent.
“What was once one of the least secure sectors in America is now one of the most secure because of investments in border security,” the senior DHS official said.
Other officials on the call emphasized, however, that a wall does not work without additional technology and resources, as well as new roads and lighting, to help keep Border Patrol officers secure. They also made the case that, even though illegal border crossings have fallen, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in need of the 15,000 new officers and agents that Trump has proposed in his executive order. Congress has yet to fund those new positions.
“Nowhere has any agency been faced with doing more with less than ICE has in past recent history,” said another senior official on the call.
As part of his tour, Trump also will see a patrol boat and a surveillance truck, and he will receive a private briefing from officials at the patrol station.
Trump's visit to Phoenix comes nearly a year after he gave a major immigration speech in the city during his campaign, laying out his vision for stronger enforcement priorities.