Fighting Justice Department accusations that his office discriminated against illegal immigrants during arrests, Sheriff Arpaio said the civilian posse of more than 50 members gives citizens a chance to fight the problem inundating their border state.
“Law enforcement budgets are being cut and agencies are losing personnel and yet the battle to stop illegal immigration must continue,” said the sheriff, who heads the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
“Arizona is the busiest port of entry for people being smuggled in from Mexico, Latin and South America. So asking for the public’s help in this endeavor makes sense, especially given the success the posses have experienced over the years.”
Fifty-six new Immigration Posse members from various professions were sworn in by the sheriff Wednesday as “illegal immigration fighters.”
Mr. Ferrigno, who played the title role in the 1970s TV series “The Incredible Hulk,” works as a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
Another new civilian volunteer is Peter Lupus, who starred in “Mission Impossible.”
“These guys are busy with their acting careers, so I don’t expect them to be here on duty very often,” Sheriff Arpaio said. “But they can be instrumental in heightening public awareness of the immigration issue and encouraging others to join the posse’s effort to help reduce the flow of illegal immigrants into our communities.”
The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in September in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, was the latest chapter in a bitter feud between Justice and Sheriff Arpaio, who is accused of failing to turn over documents sought since March 2009 that federal prosecutors say comply with its probe of purported discrimination, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and English-only policies in his jails that discriminate against those with limited English skills.
He said the lawsuit made it “abundantly clear that Arizona, including this sheriff, is Washington’s new whipping boy.”
Since the time Sheriff Arpaio took office in 1993, he has built up the volunteer posse to nearly 3,000 members, with 59 posses operating throughout Maricopa County.
He said the volunteer posses work thousands of hours and donate vehicles, planes and helicopters to the sheriff’s office as well as a variety of professional services, saving tax payers millions of dollars each year.
“People from all walks of life have contacted my office saying they want to help me in this fight in some way. This is how they can do that – by being members of a volunteer posse with the specific aim of fighting illegal immigration and lending their particular expertise to the fight,” the sheriff said.
Of the 56 Immigration Posse members, 33 are already qualified to carry weapons. They will work with deputies in searching for vehicles carrying illegal immigrants and the “safe houses,” where the people are housed before they are sent out of state. They also will help maintain crowd control during demonstrations against the sheriff’s immigration policies.