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Immigration reform walkers meet with Arizona sheriff Arpaio

By Monica Trevino, CNN
  • Four students recently completed a 1,500-mile walk for immigration reform
  • They meet with Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio
  • Arpaio has gained national reputation for his tough stance on enforcing immigration laws
  • The students, three of them undocumented, seek to make Arpaio an ally in reform quest

(CNN) -- Four college students, three of them undocumented, met with Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday to discuss his enforcement of Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants and how the law will affect families in the state.

Just weeks ago, the four students completed a four-month, 1,500-mile walk from Miami, Florida, to Washington, sharing their stories of growing up as undocumented youths in the United States and calling for executive action from President Barack Obama to stop deportations.

Arpaio, meanwhile, has become a controversial figure with his tough stance on immigration.

"All around the country, immigrants see Sheriff Arpaio as the face of terror," said Juan Rodriguez, one of the walkers. "We do not want our community to live in fear," added Rodriguez, a native of Colombia and the only one of the four walkers who is a permanent U.S. resident.

The four -- Rodriguez, Felipe Matos of Brazil, Gaby Pacheco of Ecuador and Carlos A. Roa of Venezuela -- attend colleges in Miami and became known as the "Trail of Dream Walkers" during their Miami-to-Washington trek, which ended on May 1 as they were joined by thousands of protesters urging Obama to take action on immigration reform.

The walkers said they met with Arpaio on Tuesday to humanize the immigration debate and denounce Arizona's new law.

The Arizona law requires police officers to check the residency status of those they stop for suspected crimes or violations if there is "reasonable suspicion" to suspect the person is an illegal resident.

Critics insist the law will lead to racial profiling; supporters contend it is needed to crack down on a variety of problems involving illegal immigrants.

"Sheriff Arpaio and others like him call immigrants criminals and illegals, which is dehumanizing and derogatory. We are youth and leaders who are contributing to this country that we love and recognize as our home," said Rodriguez.

According to The Arizona Republic newspaper, Arpaio said he is compassionate toward the plight of undocumented immigrants but that he will continue to enforce the immigration laws on the books.

"I was elected to do a job," Arpaio said. "My job overrides my compassion."

The walkers asked Arpaio to become an ally by sending President Obama the message that the federal immigration system is broken and needs to be reformed.

"We have to stand up and not be quiet anymore. There was a time we could afford that but not anymore," said Matos.

The students said Arapaio concluded the meeting by agreeing that families should not be separated and that he thought Congress and the White House have to take steps to change the laws -- but until then, he will continue to enforce the law.

After their Arizona trip, the group will travel to Los Angeles and San Francisco in California to gather support and signatures that will be submitted during a follow-up meeting with White House staff in mid-June.