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Sheriff Joe’s Illegal Immigration in Arizona Essay


“Illegal immigration costs Arizona Taxpayers almost 1.5 billion every year, an enormous sum that mirrors our state’s budget deficit. This is not a coincidence. As we struggle to meet the needs of our citizens, the ever-growing costs of medication, incarceration, and education for our illegal population is a threat to our state government and the taxpayers. That is why fighting illegal immigration is a major emphasis in my work. We must enforce our laws and protect our sovereignty.” Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Arizona

Definition of terms

Illegal immigrants/ illegal aliens: these are used interchangeably in this study, and refer to people in the country without the proper legal requirements. Under the US Laws, an illegal immigrant/ alien is any US non-citizen who enters the country without government permission or anyone who stays beyond the duration stated in his visa.


The above statement seems to be the drive behind Sheriff Joe’s fight against illegal immigrants. Often dubbed as the “toughest sheriff in the United States”, the sheriff has the numbers to back his fight against illegal immigrants in his county.

A statistic released in 2010, reveals that there are an estimated 475,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona alone. In this population, at least 55,000 are school going students, who attend the public schools in Arizona. As a result, at least $820 million worth of taxpayer money is spent in the state for purposes of educating the illegal immigrant students (Verschoor 1).

The effects of illegal immigration on hospitals are also substantial. According to Verschoor, hospitals in Arizona spend approximately $400 million, which is lost in uncompensated medical costs (1). As a result, a sizeable number of hospitals unable to bear the cost of operations end up closing their respective emergency wards. The closures explain why Arizona is rated among states that have the longest emergency room waiting lists in the country.

The jails come in third in Arizona’s expenditure on illegal immigrants. According to Verschoor, the state spends almost $100 million annually on illegal immigrants held in the state jail (1). In addition to the cost factor, the rising crime amongst the illegal immigrant community results in overcrowding in the state jails.

Traditionally, the mandate to handle illegal immigrants lay with the federal government (Connett 1). However, with the rising number of illegal immigrants entering the country, states have given individual counties and departments to handle some of the problems associated with illegal immigrants.

In Arizona for example, The Sheriff’s department, department of corrections and department of public safety entered into a 287(g) agreement under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for purposes of allowing local law enforcement officers to receive the necessary training needed to empower them with skills necessary in handling the illegal immigrant problem.

On his personal capacity as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe has an interdiction strike force that handles illegal immigration issues. In 2007, the sheriff’s interdiction forces prevented 523 persons from entering Arizona and applied federal laws to make 176 illegal immigrant arrests (Connett 2).


In the United States, there are relatively small populations of people who do not have high school diplomas (Gans 1). This in turns means that the demand for low-skilled workers cannot be met by the US population alone.

In the same light, the country’s lacks the necessary number of highly qualified researches in science and mathematics necessary to drive the respective sectors that need such researchers (Gans 1). In the two categories (low-skilled workers and high-skilled workers), the US immigration system creates a balance by providing temporary immigration status to low-skilled workers from other countries and granting permanent migration status to the high-skilled workers (Newberger & Gryn 1).

Labor statistics indicate that 28 percent of people in the US labor force in 2007, who held doctoral degrees were foreign-born, a further 17 percent held professional degrees, while 16 percent held Master’s degrees. The low-skilled labor force was made of 36 percent of foreign-born workers (Newburger & Gryn 4).

Of notable interest however is the fact that Mexico contributes 62 percent of the 6.8 million low-skilled workers in the US, while other regions like Europe contributed 11 percent of highly-skilled labor (24 percent of these were doctorate holders), and Asian-immigrant workers made up 26 percent of highly skilled workers (more than 55 percent were doctorate holders). This is of course where Sheriff Joe comes in because Arizona being a border state is serves as the entry point, where the majority of these workers first enter the US.

The legality of Sheriff Joe’s actions

Under section 287(g) of INA, it is legal for local law enforcement agencies to draft and sign a memorandum of understanding with the United States’ Department of Homeland Security for purposes of enabling the local officer to carry out enforcement functions related to the immigration law. The provisions in 287(g) however require that all officers intended to take up such duties undergo the necessary training under ICE.

According to the ICE, the 287(g) agreement is a platform that allows detectives, local patrol officers, and correctional officers to work with the ICE for purposes of 1) gaining the necessary latitude and resources needed to carry out investigations related to human smuggling, violent crimes, sex-related offences, money laundering, narcotics smuggling, gangs and organized criminal activities, and 2) increase the support and provision of resources to officers in geographically remote locations. The Arizona sheriff’s office has partnered with ICE to recruit both the Task Force officers and Jail Enforcement Officers.

According to Kris Kobach (cited by Starr 1), there is a federal provision that authorizes local police within respective states to arrest immigrants who were previously deported on grounds of committing felonies in the United States and they (police) have the mandate to arrest people who are in the country illegally. According to Kobach (Cited by Starr 1), the federal statute at 8 U.s.c.1252c states that local police officers have an inherent authority to make arrests on illegal aliens, detain them briefly and later relocate them to federal custody.

The effects of the law

In 2008, and in the height of Sheriff Joe’s anti-illegal immigrant’s occupation of Arizona, the New York Times reported that immigrants were fleeing Arizona in large numbers. The effect of the flight was felt in schools as enrolment dropped, a business registered fewer clients, and the real estate sector registered dropped occupancy rates (Archibold 1).

Being a border state, Arizona’s economy has historically developed a mixed-fortunes scenario, where on one hand the illegal immigrants drive the economy through their cheap labor, but on the other hand, uses the state’s resources without adequately compensating the same through taxes.

If indeed the law succeeds to drastically the number of illegal immigrants in the county and state, then there would be less spending by the county on infrastructural development. Also, it will bring a sense of fairness to the taxpayers by providing services to the taxpaying population only.

Objections that have faced Sheriff Joe

Local government does not have the authority to put into effect federal immigration laws: The response offered for this objection lies in the United States v. Vasquez-Alvarez court case filed in the court of appeal. During the case, it was ruled that the existed a general authority that granted states and local police officers the mandate to investigate, and arrest people who violate the federal law, immigration laws included.

In a different case; United States v. Santana-Garcia, the court ruled that local agencies had received a clear invitation by Congress to participate in processes of federal immigration law enforcement. Sheriff Joe’s actions were further supported by the argument that allowing state-level enforcement of immigration laws would act as a viable tool in combating illegal immigration.

The Sheriff’s position is further supported by a memo from the assistant general dated April 2002, which stated that nothing in the current law precludes states and local law enforcers from enforcing immigration laws if federal nature (Bybee 3). The memo further stated that the federal stator law did not obstruct state authorities from arresting aliens who would then be deported back to their countries of origin.

Implementing ‘REAL ID ACT’ was impractical

The Real ID Act was a federal law enacted in 2005. The law stipulated several procedures for the issuance of driving licenses as well as ID cards for use locally in the states. Although a national wide law, the Sheriff supported the same for its promise to end the immigration woes in his county (Newburger & Gryn 3). If enacted, the Real ID Act would have required a person’s details regarding immigration requirements, verification of documents as well as previous criminal records.

Although the Real ID Act has faced opposition from many quotas, it is clear that the enactment of the same would give states an increased platform to fight illegal immigration. Of concern to the illegal immigrants would be evidence of lawful status requirement that states that if not a citizen of the US, the person applying for the Real ID must produce “valid documentary evidence” to that:

  1. s/he is in the country lawfully through temporary or permanent residence status;
  2. has conditional, but permanent residential-status in the country;
  3. his/her application for asylum has been approved;
  4. has a non-immigrant visa;
  5. his/her application for asylum is pending;
  6. has an approved or pending application that would grant them protected residential status in the US;
  7. his/her action status had been approved or deferred;
  8. his/her application for residential status adjustment was pending (National Conference of State Legislatures 1).

In 2009, Conyers et al, wrote to the attorney general complaining about Sheriff Joe’s authorization of officers under him to search Latino Neighborhoods for illegal immigrants. Terming the Sheriff’s act as a “blatant disregard of the residents of Phoenix area”, the letter stated that Sheriff Joe was overreaching his mandate under 287 (g) agreements and therefore needed to be stopped (1).

The letter alleged that Joe’s officers did not have a probable cause to believe that all the homes searched for illegal immigrants indeed housed illegal immigrants and that the officers simply searched the homes based on “the resident’s skin colors and accents “(Conyers et al. 1).

Evaluating Sheriff Joe’s approach

While Sheriff Joe seems to be deeply convicted of the legitimacy of his deeds towards illegal immigrants in Arizona, serious issues raised about him regarding racial profiling and arresting and mistreating illegal immigrants in the county jails raise serious concerns. His concerns regarding illegal aliens using the county’s resources without compensating for the same through taxes may be true, but his allegation concerning increased crimes being a direct result of increased illegal immigrants in the county is debatable.

Previous research has shown no direct correlation between illegal immigrants and an increase in crime (Newsburger & Gryn 4). Further, his allegation that illegal immigrants take up jobs that genuinely belong to legal Americans is misplaced. According to Gans (2), most illegal immigrants take up casual jobs that legal Americans most of whom have considerable better education, cannot take for various reasons.

As noted by Archibold, the sheriff’s tough rules on illegal immigrants are driving them away from Arizona altogether, and the negative effect is felt by business both in reduced workers and reduced clients(1). With the exception of federal spending on social services, this means that illegal immigrants play a significant role in Arizona’s economy.

Personal opinion /reflection

Arguing from a human rights perspective, this paper holds that the allegation that illegal immigrants were held without trial, “made to wear pink flip-flops, pink underwear, and pink handcuffs”, my opinion that he should be charged for human rights violation if he is indeed found guilty.

Further, it is clear that children born in American soil are legally Americans regardless of whether their parents are illegal Americans or not. This then means that for every illegal immigrant parent that is held by Sheriff Joe ready for trial and possible deportation, a home is broken. Eventually, the children suffer for their parents attempt to make a living albeit illegally in the United States.

Considering that a substantial number of illegal immigrants have been living and working peacefully for many years, while abiding by the US laws, it is also uncompassionate to deport them to Mexico, where they would have to start their lives all over again, while faced with the same challenges they run away from when they initially entered the US.

Comparison with Canada

Just like Arizona and the larger United States, illegal aliens in Canada are perceived as a group of people who benefit from social services, without duly paying for the same through taxes. Further, in a country with at least 2 million unemployed people, the illegal immigrants are perceived as takers of jobs, which the otherwise unemployed population would take (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1).

Unlike Arizona, however, there are no documented illegal immigrant hunts such as those conducted by Sheriff Joe. Most illegal aliens in Canada are thought to have overstayed their Visas (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1). Since the government does not have the records on the number of people who overstay their visas while in Canada, no official statics are available regarding the numbers.

The Canada Immigration Services is responsible for enforcing the Canadian Immigration law. Interestingly, Canada has a naturally protected border, which is surrounded by great distances on major migrant routes. Just like Arizona, Canada has experimented with immigrants to fill up its population deficits.

However, Canada is more tolerant of illegal immigrants owing to its liberal laws on refugees and asylum seekers (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1). This then means that the illegal immigrants in Canada mainly enter the country legally only to overstay their visas.

Unlike Arizona, whose greatest challenge remains dealing with the influx of refugees from the Mexican border, Canada has to contend with closing loopholes in its migratory laws that give people who do not qualify for asylum or refugee status an easy way to the country.

The Canadian Encyclopedia further illegal aliens in Canada can only be detected when they attempt acquiring public services, something that could draw the attention of relevant authorities. The chances of this happening are, however minimal, especially considering that there is a lack of coordination regarding the need to flush the country of illegal immigrants.

Learning outcome, findings & solutions

This study has found out that Sheriff Joe’s approach to handling the illegal immigrant problem is succeeding in scaring illegal aliens away from his county. Whether this will provide a long-term solution to the county’s illegal immigration woes is something that will require further observation and investigation.

This study has also observed that the approach by the sheriff has brought mixed fortunes to the county. While it may cut on its spending on public infrastructure, the county’s businessmen may have to contend with the leaner workforce at relatively higher costs. This is because most illegal immigrants work for lesser pay than most legal US citizens would work for.


Sheriff Joe’s actions have attracted both accolades and criticism in equal measures. Those in support of his actions argue that the Sheriff has been elected four times in a row for his efficiency in serving the people in his county. In their opinion, the Sheriff has the interest of the residents of Arizona at heart when carrying out the tough anti-illegal alien practices.

In open support for laws that applied sanctions to employers who knowingly employed illegal aliens, the Sheriff was quoted as saying, “it’s sad with the high unemployment rate in this country that employers hire illegal aliens, who take jobs away from US citizens” (Thomas 2). His opponents, however, think otherwise. Most human right groups opposed to his tactics state that violates the law by depriving people the rights, immunities, and privileges as granted in the US constitution.

Further, the conditions of confinement of the arrested illegal immigrants are perceived by his opponents as suspect, and they also accuse him of acting based on the “color and accent” of the suspects (Conyers et al. 2). Whether these accusations are true or not will become apparent once the investigations of the Sheriff by the Federal Bureau of investigations are completed. For now, the Sheriff continues acting under the mandate granted to him and his officers under the 287(g).

If found guilty of the accusations leveled against him, his accusers argue that the agreement between the Sheriff and the Department of Homeland Security should be terminated or remedied. Whether this will happen or not depends entirely on the outcome of the FBI investigations and the recommendations therein.


Place of birth of the foreign-born civilian labor force by educational attainment
Table 1

Works Cited

Archibold, Randal. . The New York Times. 2008. Web.

Bybee, Jay. “Assistant attorney General, Memorandum for the Attorney general, US Department of Justice, Office of legal Counsel”. 2002: 1-7. Print.

Connett, Brent. State Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws. State Approached to Illegal Immigration law enforcement. 2007. Web.

Conyers, John, Lofgren, Zoe, Nadler, Jerrold and Scott, Robert. Letter to the Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano. US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary. 2009. Web.

Gans, Judith. : Causes And Policy Solutions. 2007. Web.

National Conference of state legislature. (Contained in P.L 109-13). 2010. Web.

Newburger, Eric and Thomas Gryn. “The Foreign-Born Labor Force in the United States: 2007, American Community Survey Reports, ACS-10, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.” Nov.2009: 1-10. Print.

Starr, Penny. Arizona Sheriff Vows to Enforce Immigration Law Whether ‘Feds’ Like it or Not. CCS News. 2009. Web.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. Immigration Policy. 2010. Web.

Thomas, Andrew. First Employer S Actions Case Filed; Scottsdale Arty Factory Accused Of Hiring Illegal Workers After January 2009 Raid. News release. 2009. Web.

United States v. Santa-Garcia, United States Court of Appeals, tenth Circuit. 264 F.3d 1138, 1193 (10th Circ. 2001).

United States V. Vasquez-Alvarez, United states court of appeals, tenth circuit. 176 F.3d 1294, 1295 (10th cir. 2001)

Verschoor, Thayer. The Problem Is Bigger Than You Think. 2008. Web.

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