The sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, said Wednesday in Tampa that the Obama administration should give him a "medal" for apprehending undocumented immigrants rather than investigating him for his methods.

"I should be getting a medal. The president should invite me to the White House ... and thank me for helping the government fight illegal immigration and the drug cartels," Arpaio told members of the foreign press covering the Republican National Convention.

(The president and I) would go out on the patio, get ourselves some beers, play a little basketball and talk, but that's not going to happen.

- Sheriff Joe Arpaio

"(The president and I) would go out on the patio, get ourselves some beers, play a little basketball and talk, but that's not going to happen," he said ironically.

Arpaio, who has supported the presidential candidacy of Republican Mitt Romney, said that if the former Massachusetts governor wins the presidency in November, Congress should work with him to legislatively solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Romney "is an honorable man" and if he wins the presidency solving the problem "won't be easy ... (but) I hope that they let him work (on it)," he said.

When asked by Efe about the Republican platform approved on Tuesday which takes a "hard line" against undocumented immigrants, Arpaio repeated his stance that the first mission of the United States is "to enforce its laws" and that those who violate them should go to jail.

Arpaio defended the arrest and deportation of undocumented foreigners as a deterrent to illegal immigration: "I oppose a (border) wall, but once you jump it, you should go to jail. That would be a big deterrent."

"I'm not drinking anything. I know how to handle the problem on the border," said Arpaio, who is the target of a Justice Department investigation into his controversial tactics of arresting and deporting undocumented migrants.

According to Arpaio, who is considered a "hero" among anti-immigrant groups all around the country, "the irony is that I've devoted my whole life to fighting drug trafficking and the problem of immigration, and now the Justice Department is after me."

Arpaio said that illegal immigration in the United States "is a difficult matter to resolve" but in his judgment the solution lies in strengthening the border, enforcing the laws and working jointly with Mexico.

"It's a two-way street. It requires mutual cooperation," he emphasized.

Illegal immigration has been one of the main issues in this electoral cycle and Hispanic voters are a key bloc in several swing states.

To win the presidency, the consensus is that a candidate needs to get at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. According to the latest surveys, President Barack Obama has a wide lead over Romney among Hispanics.

Arpaio does not have any direct role during the Republican National convention, where on Thursday Romney will officially accept the party's presidential nomination.

The 80-year-old Arpaio, who has been sheriff - an elected position - of Maricopa County since 1992, is awaiting the verdict of a federal court in Phoenix, after a lawsuit brought against him by the federal government accusing him of "illegal discriminatory practices used by (law enforcement) against Latinos." 

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