FOUNTAIN HILLS, Arizona (Reuters) - As many as 200 activists, some chanting “go Joe, go Joe,” rallied in Arizona on Saturday to support Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is facing a federal racial-profiling probe for his police sweeps against illegal immigrants.
“Sheriff Joe is one of the very few guys who will enforce the immigration laws across this nation,” said Randy Hatch, who used a megaphone to rally supporters of Arpaio at a park in this northeast Phoenix valley city.
“Every constitution and country that has ever existed has had to have sovereign borders,” he said to cheers from the crowd, some clutching placards reading “Sheriff Joe keeps us safe” and “illegal is illegal.”
Arpaio, who styles himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” is a resident of Fountain Hills.
Earlier this month the Obama administration said it was preparing to sue Arpaio and his department “for violating civil rights laws by improperly targeting Latinos.”
The sheriff has denied any wrongdoing and lashed out at the federal government for targeting his department while failing to confront the more than 11 million illegal immigrants who live and work throughout the nation.
Arpaio supporter Buffalo Rick Galeener slammed the probe, which began under former President George W. Bush in 2008, as “politically motivated.”
“For me it’s just a big waste of money and all political,” Galeener, who had a .38 revolver in a holster on his hip, said at the rally.
“It’s been going on for three and a half years ... they’ve been digging and digging and digging, and they still can’t find anything to charge him with,” he added.
The rally came amid heightened tension over immigration in Arizona after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week over a partially blocked state law that targeted illegal immigrants.
Signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2010, the law requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop and suspect of being in the country illegally. It was among measures blocked by a federal judge before it took effect.
Arpaio has also been under fire for his treatment of prisoners in his jails. Last month, a federal appeals court noted that a requirement that inmates wear pink underwear may be unconstitutional when applied to those not convicted of a crime.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the policy in reinstating a lawsuit against Arpaio and Maricopa County by the estate of a mentally ill man who died of heart problems in 2001, weeks after being forcibly dressed in the underwear. Supporters, though, said Arpaio’s tough treatment of detainees worked.
“He doesn’t want you to return so it’s not going to be a pleasant experience ” said Mark Renner, 50, who said he had served time in the Maricopa County jail system.
Editing by Dan Burns and Paul Simao