With most of Arizona's new immigration law blocked by a judge, controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched his 17th "crime suppression" sweep in Maricopa County, pledging late Thursday afternoon to have his deputies and volunteers check the immigration status of those arrested.
"We're looking for anybody who violates the law," he said. "If we find any illegal aliens, they are going to be arrested."
The operation began about 4 p.m. after being delayed for several hours while his deputies responded to demonstrations outside the county jail in Phoenix. During those protests, several people were arrested and others detained, including a legal observer and a news photographer.
Teams of Arpaio's deputies, followed by media vans, spread out across the city and elsewhere in Maricopa County. By Thursday evening, officials said they had not yet counted the number of arrests.
Arpaio predicted that the publicity would cut down on the total. Since beginning the sweeps in 2008, deputies have made nearly 1,000 arrests — nearly 70% of them illegal immigrants — according to the Sheriff's Department. Most have been for minor offenses.
People across the country also participated in protests and civil disobedience acts to oppose Arizona's policies against illegal immigrants. The state's new law took effect Thursday, though a judge Wednesday blocked the most controversial parts.
In Los Angeles, 200 protesters blocked traffic on Wilshire Boulevard for hours, causing severe traffic jams around Hancock Park and the Miracle Mile. At least 10 people were arrested after the activists chained themselves together with plastic pipes and handcuffs.
Arpaio is under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible civil rights violations. Immigrant rights advocates condemn his tactics and say he uses minor infractions as a pretext for arresting illegal immigrants and processing them for deportation. During the protests Thursday, dozens of people chanted, "Arrest Arpaio, not the people!"
"Joe Arpaio has shown a disregard for basic constitutional protections," said Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, who traveled from Los Angeles to Phoenix this week. "People in Maricopa County have grown accustomed to defending themselves from his so-called crime suppression sweeps."
Arpaio said Thursday that he doesn't go looking for illegal immigrants but finds them because they are out breaking the law. Arpaio said he timed the operation for the day SB 1070 took effect to send a message — that nothing is changing despite U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's ruling.
"I want the people of Maricopa County to know, 'Hey if you are here illegally and you commit a crime — go somewhere else,'" he said.
On Wednesday, Bolton issued a preliminary injunction blocking several parts of the law, including one provision that would have made it a state crime to lack immigration papers.
Since making the ruling, Bolton has received some threats, according to the U.S. marshal for Arizona. The marshal said the judge had received thousands of phone calls and e-mail messages, including some from people who "expressed their displeasure in a perverted way."
Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.