UPDATE 2-Arizona sheriff denies targeting illegal immigrants by skin color

Tim Gaynor

* Plaintiffs argue Arpaio targeted Latinos in immigration

sweeps

* Public statements used against sheriff to suggest

prejudice against Mexicans

* Four protesters arrested outside courthouse

(Adds details from cross-examination)

PHOENIX, July 24 (Reuters) - Veteran Arizona lawman Joe

Arpaio, self-described as "America's toughest sheriff," denied

on Tuesday that his deputies targeted people because of the

color of their skin in a controversial crackdown on illegal

immigration.

Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County, was testifying

in a class-action lawsuit that will test whether police can

target illegal immigrants without racially profiling Hispanic

citizens and legal residents.

"I am against anyone racial profiling ... today, as in my 50

years in law enforcement," Arpaio, a veteran lawman who recently

turned 80, told the court during cross-examination.

Arpaio was also asked about a news release he issued after a

sweep targeting illegal immigrants in 2008, in which he noted

criticism from former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon that his agency

went after "brown-skinned people with cracked windshields."

"We do not arrest people because of the color of their

skin," said Arpaio, speaking in a slightly hoarse voice due to a

recent case of influenza.

The plaintiffs' counsel, Stanley Young, asked Arpaio if he

believed illegal immigrants entering Maricopa County had certain

appearances and whether this included brown skin color. Arpaio

replied: "No."

The sheriff, who is seeking re-election to a sixth term in

November, has been a lightning rod for controversy over his

aggressive enforcement of immigration laws in the border state

with Mexico, as well as his investigation into the validity of

President Barack Obama's birth certificate.

The suit was brought against Arpaio and his office on behalf

of five Hispanic plaintiffs who say they were stopped by

deputies because they were Latino, which Arpaio denies.

The trial focuses attention on Arizona, which was in the

news last month when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key element

of the state's crackdown on illegal immigrants requiring police

to investigate those they stop and suspect of being in the

country illegally.

The Obama administration had challenged the crackdown in

court, saying the U.S. Constitution gave the federal government

sole authority over immigration policy.

Arpaio faces a separate, broader lawsuit filed by the U.S.

Justice Department in May, alleging systematic profiling, sloppy

and indifferent police work and a disregard for minority rights.

Protesters from both sides of the debate gathered outside

the court toting flags and placards. One read "No Justice, No

Peace, No Racist Police." Another read: "We Support Sheriff Joe"

and "Don't believe the liberal media."

Phoenix police arrested four protesters for blocking a road

outside the courthouse named for former Supreme Court Justice

Sandra Day O'Connor.

AMERICAN DREAM FOR EVERYONE?

The plaintiffs in the suit include the Somos America

immigrants' rights coalition and all Latino drivers stopped by

the office since 2007.

Last week, the court heard testimony from two witnesses who

said they believed they had been stopped by deputies because

they were Hispanic. David Vasquez, 47, testified he felt he was

"pulled over for 'driving while brown.'"

On Tuesday, Young used the five-term sheriff's previous

public statements against him to suggest a pattern of prejudice

against Mexicans. He cited a statement at the time of a swine

flu outbreak in Mexico, in which Arpaio noted that some illegal

immigrants in his custody were from an area south of Mexico City

where he said the flu had killed more than 150 people.

"You were associating people from Mexico with disease, is

that right?" Young asked Arpaio, to which he replied "No." He

said that he was "concerned" that the detainees "were not coming

through checkpoints" on the border.

The court also heard that in a book - "Joe's Law, America's

Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and

Everything Else that Threatens America" - Arpaio wrote all

immigrants "exclusive of those from Mexico, hold to certain

hopes and truths." Arpaio attributed the statement to a

co-author. When asked if he believed the American Dream was for

everyone, he said: "Yes."

The American Dream refers to the U.S. ideal of prosperity

and upward mobility won through hard work.

Young also produced letters from Maricopa County residents

urging Arpaio to launch immigration sweeps, including one from a

woman complaining of workers at a Sun City McDonald's restaurant

speaking in Spanish.

The court heard how Arpaio instructed his assistant to write

a thank you letter to the woman, identified as Gail, and

forwarded it to the officer in charge of a forthcoming

immigration sweep in the area.

Young asked: "Speaking Spanish isn't a crime is it?" Arpaio

replied: "No it isn't." Asked if he told Gail it was no crime,

he said he did not.

Another resident wrote to a newspaper saying law enforcement

"should be looking for Mexicans ... Profiling is .... a valuable

tool for law enforcement." The letter was clipped by Arpaio's

office. The sheriff said he presumed it was archived in an

immigration file, "but it doesn't mean that I agree with it."

The jury trial before Judge Murray Snow is expected to run

until Aug. 2.

(Additional reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by David

Brunnstrom and Stacey Joyce)