Jail inmates to clean up desert mess
Sheriff: It helps planet, fights illegal immigration
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 1, 2006 12:00 AM
Water bottles. Sleeping bags. Empty food containers.
It's an unsightly mess left behind at temporary campsites set up by illegal immigrants trekking through Maricopa County's desert areas.
And starting today, about 200 jail inmates will be cleaning it up. advertisement
Dubbed "Operation I.C.U.," because the desert requires "intensive care," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the desert trash pickup is a new phase in his fight against illegal immigration and an effort to improve the environment at the same time. The "Illegal Alien Campsite Clean Up" will occur monthly.
"These people are coming here illegally. They're breaking the law, and they're destroying our desert," Arpaio said. "It's disgusting."
Deputies have been coming across campsites and snapping photos of the filth since Arpaio's anti-human-smuggling unit began looking for and arresting illegal immigrants in March. So far, 351 illegal immigrants have been jailed, and Arpaio said their mess needs to be cleaned up.
Deputy Chief Brian Sands estimates there are about 15 large illegal campsites in the western part of the county. They are used as "drop zones" and temporary staging areas for illegal immigrants. The immigrants will stay there anywhere from a couple of hours to several days, until they can be picked up and transported to their destinations. They usually leave in a hurry, dumping blankets and other trash. In some areas, trash piles are knee deep.
"There's all these little campsites over the years that have turned into this big mess," Sands said.
Illegal dumping not only ruins views but threatens the health of people who live or play there; over time, it pollutes the ground and groundwater.
Offenders who dump trash rarely are caught, and cleanups are costly.
Arpaio said his cleanup will cost taxpayers almost nothing. Trash bags and dump trucks have been donated, and inmate labor is free. Of the 200 convicted inmates who will take part today, 10 are foreign nationals from Mexico, Arpaio said. The inmates will get an extra bologna sandwich for their work.
Today's cleanup will take place in a desert south of Lake Pleasant. Deputies will be on hand to arrest any illegal immigrants in the area. Anyone caught dumping trash also will be arrested, Arpaio said.
But cleaning up the desert has another benefit: intelligence. Deputies will sift through the trash, looking for clues that could help curtail illegal immigration even more.
"We can look at these locations and tell a lot about the trash they leave," Sands said. "Our investigators don't have the time to sort through all this stuff. This gives us a chance to take a closer look."
Deputies will try to determine from the trash if other foreigners are being smuggled through Arizona. Any maps could provide a better indication of smuggling routes.
"I want to pick up some intelligence," Arpaio said, "but my main mission is to save the desert.
"We're going to get this cleaned up."
Illegal aliens used to clean up desert campsite dumps
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