Authorities have captured 17 suspected illegal immigrants in southern Arizona as they continued their manhunt Saturday for smugglers who they say shot and wounded a sheriff’s deputy in a remote desert area 50 miles south of Phoenix.
Three of those captured overnight Friday matched descriptions from the wounded Pinal County deputy and were being questioned Saturday, sheriff’s Lt. Tamatha Villar said. Early Saturday afternoon, Villar said they had been ruled out as suspects and handed over to custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, but this evening she said the three remained in sheriff's department custody as "persons of interest."
The deputy, Louie Puroll, 53, was released from the hospital, and was recovering at home.
The shooting came amid a growing national debate over the state’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration. A backlash over the law has erupted, with civil rights activists, concerned it will lead to racial profiling, calling for protests and boycotts.
Criticism of the law figured prominently at dozens of immigrants-rights marches and rallies Saturday across the nation, including one in Tucson and another at for the grounds of the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix.
The new law’s passage came amid increasing anger in Arizona about violence, drug smugglers and illegal immigration drop houses. The issue gained renewed attention a month ago when a southern Arizona rancher was shot and killed by a suspected illegal border crosser.
Arizona politicians called Friday’s shooting an outrage and urged the federal government to do more to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
The violence “should show the rest of the country what we Arizonans have known for too long — the unsecured border poses a very real and very immediate danger,” said U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat whose district includes part of Pinal County.
On Friday afternoon Puroll was patrolling near Interstate 8 when he came upon a stash of marijuana bales and five suspected smugglers. At least one of the suspects opened fire on him, tearing a chunk of skin from his back.
Puroll radioed in that he was shot, setting off a frantic hourlong search for the deputy in the remote desert, Villar said.
The area is a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants headed from Mexico to Phoenix and the U.S. interior.
State and federal law enforcement agencies deployed helicopters and scores of officers to search a 100-square-mile zone for the suspects. The Arizona Republic reported that officials said more than one of the choppers came under fire during the manhunt on Friday.
Puroll, a 15-year department veteran, had been on the lookout for smugglers when he discovered the suspected smugglers, two armed with rifles, authorities said.