Sheriff Clarence Dupnik went after the tea party this weekend at an immigration forum, saying its members are bigoted.

“We didn’t have a tea party until we had a black president,” Dupnik said at a forum held at St. Francis Cabrini Roman Catholic church.

Asked how it came up in the discussion, he said, “I brought it up. I think I was talking about how bigotry is alive and well in America.”

He said aside from the timing of the movement’s birth, he’s seen bigoted messages at their rallies.

“I think it bring out the worst in America,” he said. “Instead of sitting down and getting both parties to work together, they are part of a movement designed to stop Obama from accomplishing anything.”

He said the group is preventing a rational discussion of immigration reform. “Every time you start talking about reform, they start talking amnesty,” he said. And although the comprehensive immigration reform effort pushed by U.S. Sen. John McCain failed before the tea parties organized, Dupnik said the chances are far worse now than they were before.

Tea party organizer Trent Humphries was outraged at the comments. “He pegged everybody who supports the tea party as racists,” he said. “You don’t do that if you’re in a position of power.”

The local tea party didn’t take a position on Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070. Humphries said it was an intentional decision to stay focused on fiscal and taxation issues, as opposed to social ones. He said inviting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to the group’s big annual event in October is not a shift from that earlier position, saying it just reflects the fact that many conservatives wanted to hear Arpaio speak.

“I just want to make the point that Sheriffs Paul Babeu and Larry Dever are being held up as potentially guilty of (racial) profiling and there’s been all sorts of outrage about it,” Humprhies said. “This guy absolutely is profiling. What’s wrong is wrong is wrong.”

Dupnik said he isn’t sorry he made the comments and won’t cave to pressure, just like he didn’t cave when a group of fellow Democratic elected officials asked him to apologize for saying in May 2009 that 40 percent of the students in Sunnyside Unified School District are in the country illegally.

“I didn’t apologize to Raúl Grijalva and I’m not going to apologize to them,” Dupnik said. “They have a right to their opinions and I have a right to mine.”