The US government is ready to sue a prominent Arizona sheriff if he does not cooperate with an investigation into alleged discrimination against illegal immigrants, officials said Wednesday.
The target of the federal action is Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, whose zealous pursuit and severe treatment of illegal immigrants has made him a hero to some in Arizona and hated by others.
“We will not hesitate to commence litigation after August 17 if MCSO (Maricopa County Sheriff Office) continues to take the position that it need not cooperate with the Division’s investigation,” the Justice Department warned Arpaio in an August 3 letter.
The Justice Department opened the investigation in March 2009 following allegations of discrimination against Hispanics by Arpaio, 78, who has come under fire for tactics that include police sweeps in streets, factories and outside restaurants.
“MCSO has always fulfilled its responsibilities truthfully, honorably, and in full compliance with state and federal law,” said a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, Asheesh Agarwal, in an email.
The sheriff’s lawyers have requested a new meeting with federal agents next week, Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said.
The Justice Department is demanding that Arpaio turn over documents and fully open sheriff office facilities to its investigators.
Arizona is the the scene of a bitter dispute between proponents of a hardline against illegal immigration and those who defend their civil rights.
Arizona’s governor approved a law that gives police broader powers to pursue illegal immigrants, but a federal judge has temporarily blocked some of its more controversial provisions.