By Daniel Gonzalez
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano imposed strong new standards on Friday for a federal program that lets local police enforce immigration laws, saying the priority is catching and deporting dangerous criminals in the country illegally, not going after illegal immigrants who commit minor offenses.
The new guidelines could mean a change in business for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the highest-profile participant in the controversial federal program. In the past 18 months, Arpaio's office has arrested hundreds of illegal immigrants during his controversial crime-suppression sweeps aimed mostly at traffic violators and low-level criminals.
Arpaio, who has 90 days to review the changes before deciding whether to continue participating in the program, said he believes new standards will result in the arrests of fewer illegal immigrants.
In the meantime, he vowed to continue conducting crime-suppression operations - one is planned soon - and will keep booking suspected illegal immigrants who commit even minor crimes into jail, where officers automatically check the immigration status of inmates as part of the so-called 287 (g) program.