On the same morning thousands gathered in Phoenix to show their disapproval for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a separate rally in the West Valley attracted supporters of the sheriff and his controversial policies toward illegal immigration. Approximately 150 people gathered at the R.H. Johnson Recreation Center in Sun City West to hear Arizona politicians and the sheriff himself speak in favor of tough immigration enforcement.

“This illegal immigration [issue] has made me the poster boy for illegal immigration enforcement,” Arpaio said to the crowd. “I took an oath of office to enforce the law … If people want to change things, why don’t they change the law?”

The sheriff’s speech focused on his 12 years of experience working at border and his belief that representatives from Washington were out of touch with Arizona’s problems. “Most politicians don’t know where Mexico is . . . We’re not going to surrender to Washington on this issue,” he said. “[There are] 900 square miles of this county, and I represent every inch.”

Among the main opinions heard at the rally was the belief in a link between illegal immigration and problems like violence, drugs and the recent fears over swine flu, though Arpaio critics say violence has more to do with America’s drug problem than immigration. Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said a disproportionate number of illegal immigrants become involved in violent crime and drugs. Asked if he had information to support that claim, he said, “The sheriff will tell you [the statistics.] I saw them a couple weeks ago – good statistics.”

Harper stressed the sheriff’s immigration enforcement as a necessary complement to other types of law enforcement. “They’re not just targeting illegal immigrants,” he said, adding that many illegal immigrants are discovered during routine traffic stops.

Several crowd members carried American flags and signs reading, “Way to go Sheriff Joe” and “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” Jennifer Self, a resident of Sun City West, came to the rally to show her concern over an issue she says frightens her. “I understand the people who want to come here and make a better life,” she said. “Our family came over from Europe, but they came through the front door. “I have two grandchildren,” she added. “My grandchildren aren’t going to live the life I did – I fear for them.”

John Chaney, another local resident, organized the event. He said the rushed timetable for the rally and only limited media coverage hurt the turnout. Several speakers during the rally questioned why no television cameras had turned out. “I think we should have had a lot more [people],” he said. However, Chaney said he was pleased with the community’s support. “These people in these communities are the core supporters,” he said, referring to Sun City West and Legislative District 4, which hosted the rally.

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