Arpaio Plans To Scrap Aerial Immigration Enforcement Effort

By Devin Browne
April 21, 2011

After three weeks of patrolling county lines by aircraft, Sheriff Joe Arpaio says he plans to scrap Operation Desert Sky in which volunteers have boarded their own airplanes to look for drugs and smugglers crossing the Maricopa County Border.

"I've hit the desert, now it's time to come back to the cities," Arpaio said.

So far, the operation has yielded more than 180 arrests of undocumented immigrants. Compare this to nearby Pima County which has picked up just 83 in the last four months.

Photo courtesy Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

No other sheriff's office in Arizona has ever used aerial surveillance to patrol their county lines, looking for undocumented immigrants or drugs. But Arpaio is not the first to step up surveillance efforts to show that American borders are vulnerable. Border security activist Glenn Spencer has been doing this for years -- since 2002 when he first started using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), before even the U.S. Border Patrol used them. After nine years though, Spencer and his non-profit "American Border Patrol" have stopped flying so much. He says, all in all, a focus on aircraft is a waste of money.

"It might not be for a public relations demonstration," he said, "but it doesn’t solve the problem. And if we doing our job, we wouldn’t need all these helicopters. We wouldn't need all these airplanes. We wouldn’t need all these toys that they’re buying."

Senator McCain and Senator Kyl’s 10 point border security plan includes a substantial funding increase in aerial surveillance for the U.S. Border Patrol.

The Sheriff says that because the initiative is volunteer-driven, the office only pays for the pilots' gas. Still, despite the high arrest rate and apparent low cost, he plans to quit Operation Desert Sky in two weeks and launch what he calls "another controversial operation" called "Crime Suppression in the Cities."