Conyers seeks DoJ probe into controversial sheriff

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and three fellow Democrats want the Department of Justice to investigate civil rights complaints against controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The lawmakers, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent Friday, are seeking a probe into reports Arpaio has used skin color as a basis to search for illegal immigrants in Arizona.

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Conyers and Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) want to end a federal agreement that allows the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to enforce immigration laws if the allegations turn out to be accurate.

It is hardly the first time Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona's largest county, has attracted criticism from those who take issue with his approach. Last year, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (D) and several immigrant rights groups called for a similar investigation, according to the Arizona Republic.

Arpaio has been at the center of other national controversies before, including instituting volunteer chain gangs and issuing prisoners pink underwear.

Conyers and his fellow committee members accuse Arpaio of ordering deputies to search largely Hispanic neighborhoods in and around Phoenix for illegal immigrants. Those in the Hispanic community, the lawmakers wrote, "feel under siege."

Arpaio has denied wrongdoing, and he has praised the federal agreement, which has let his deputies arrest illegal immigrants. Arpaio told Arizona reporters he is worried Napolitano, who until being tapped by President Obama was Arizona's governor, will reverse the policy.

Napolitano has asked for a review of the agreement, which allows local jurisdictions to enforce immigration laws, to inspect whether the program is being applied uniformally across the country.

Arpaio has clashed with Napolitano, as well as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Arizona politicians. Asked about the investigation on CNN on Sunday, McCain wouldn't comment directly, though he acknowledged differences with Arpaio over immigration reform.

"I've disagreed with the sheriff fundamentally about the fact that we need to have a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration. That includes a guest-worker program," McCain said. "That includes securing our borders, and it includes putting people on a path to citizenship, that they're behind everybody else, that has no -- that they have to pay fines, et cetera, et cetera."