'America's Toughest Sheriff' Takes on Illegals

There are so many illegal immigrants in Arizona that even those who do not commit crimes have become a major irritant in the eyes of many. Last month the town council in nearby Cave Creek — part of Arpaio's county — passed an ordinance banning loitering and prohibiting drivers from stopping to pick people up.

But the labor market still seeks them out. For six years Cave Creek's Good Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church has offered itself as a safe place, no questions asked, for employers to meet laborers. This month Arpaio's deputies began random traffic stops of vehicles leaving the church, arresting any illegal immigrants found inside.

"It's clear that we've been targeted," said the Rev. Glenn Jenks, the pastor at Good Shepherd. "And I think we've been targeted because there is a sentiment in some of the community leaders here — they just want to run these guys out of town."

'More Will Just Come'

But Jenks believes that Arpaio is misreading the realities of illegal immigration.

"The drive that brings them here is one of the most basic and powerful drives, and that is for a father to feed his children," said Jenks. "And I think a lot of people underestimate that — they think that if they can just make it a little uncomfortable for them they'll go home. Some will, but the vast majority won't. More will just come. And they'll keep coming and keep coming."

Some may be wary of the sheriff's gunslinger approach, but he clearly has his supporters. In January the state will add yet another law to its anti-immigrant arsenal, penalizing employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Arpaio can't wait — at age 75 he has an approval rating of 80 percent in Maricopa County, which is why he also can't wait till next year when he plans to run for his fifth term in office.

"Every time they blast me, my polls go up," he said. "That's how stupid these people are. They don't understand that the public wants something done about illegal immigration."

When "Nightline" approached some of the illegal immigrants who are the object of Arpaio's contempt, they ran from the camera. But when we explained we only wanted to ask questions, some come forward.

Do they think it's harder now for them?

"Yes, it's harder," one said, "because they don't want us to work here."

And then he added, "What are the gringos going to do once we are all gone? We are the ones who do all the work around here."

It is a fair question, but it's not one that Arpaio worries about.

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