An average of 400 “criminal illegal immigrants” are being released every 10 days by the newly elected sheriff in Arizona’s most populous county, federal law enforcement sources tell Judicial Watch, many of them violent offenders. It’s part of Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone’s new policy to protect illegal aliens, even those who have committed serious state crimes, from deportation. Under a longtime partnership between the county and the feds, the Phoenix field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was notified when “aliens unlawfully present with additional Arizona charges” were released from the Maricopa County Jail, which is one of the nation’s largest with a population of about 8,000. That ended when Penzone, who refers to illegal immigrants as “guests,” took office this year and, though he formally announced the change last week, it was put into practice much earlier.
During a recent 10-day period, more than 400 criminal illegal immigrants were released from the Maricopa County Jail, according to federal law enforcement officials directly involved in the process in Phoenix. Weekdays are the busiest, with an average of about 40 criminal illegal aliens getting released from Maricopa County Jail facilities, the sources said. On weekends the number drops to about ten each day. The illegal aliens have state criminal charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies, driving under the influence and drug offenses. “There’s no telling how many criminals he’s (Sheriff Penzone) putting on the streets,” said a high-ranking federal law enforcement official stationed in Arizona. Judicial Watch’s calls to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office were not returned.
Before the new sheriff changed the system, ICE would send a wagon every 12 hours to pick up criminal illegal aliens scheduled to be released from the main jail in Maricopa County. Under the new policy, Maricopa County officials are not giving ICE “any notification at all of the release of criminal illegals,” according to an agency official in Phoenix who’s not authorized to talk and can’t be identified. Without cooperation from county authorities, federal agents would have to stand at the door to the jail 24 hours a day and guess which prisoner should be deported, sources said. “We can’t stand out there and question everyone that walks out of that jail,” said a federal agent directly involved in the matter. “Even if we did, we would have to make arrests on the street, in the middle of protestors, families and picketers and that will only heighten the danger to agents.”
When Penzone announced the new policy at a press conference last week, ICE issued a statement calling it an “immediate, dangerous change.” The agency’s Phoenix director for enforcement and removal operations, Enrique Lucero, was quoted in local media saying: “Immigration detainers have been a successful enforcement tool to prevent the release of dangerous criminals to our streets and mitigate the possibility of future crimes being committed against the residents of our communities.” Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain specific figures and pertinent information related to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s policies involving criminal illegal aliens. “This is as bad as it gets,” said one federal officer.