Maricopa County jail inmates in Arizona have built white wooden crosses they will place where bodies of dead immigrants were found after ill-fated illegal border crossings, controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced Thursday.

Arpaio, who dubs himself "America's toughest sheriff" by developing a reputation as a tough immigration enforcer in recent years, said he hoped the crosses would serve as a dramatic deterrent and reminder of how dangerous it is to travel from Mexico through the desert of southern Arizona.

The crosses will be numbered and GPS sensitive, allowing immigrants to call 911 for help, according to myphoenix.com, the Fox News affiliate station in Phoenix.

He said four bodies have been found in the last four days near Gila Bend after succumbing to the scorching desert heat. Two others were rescued this week.

"Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies have investigated 14 deaths since June in and around Gila Bend, an area known for human trafficking. Desert crossers are dying in unknown numbers due to the desert's brutal conditions and excessively high temperatures," said Arpaio, according to myfoxphoenix.com.

"In addition to 14 dead, over 30 individuals have been rescued from the same area this summer," he added.

"Every life is precious," added Arpaio. "It is our duty to preserve the peace and protect the public, no matter their national status or citizenry."

As far as he sees it, he's doing the right moral thing to put the complexity of the national immigration dilemma into context.

"If we have to do 1,000 of these, or 5,000, we'll do it," said Arpaio, who became a prominent national figure in the immigration debate in recent years.

 

Arpaio's county does not run along the border, but some areas of his jurisdiction are heavily trafficked smuggling routes.

The U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector located 177 bodies in the last fiscal year. Immigrants frequently walk up to a week in debilitating heat, often with insufficient enough water and food, particularly in scorching summer months where ground temperatures in the desert can reach 140 degrees.

Arpaio, who has been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama's border security efforts, also wants the federal government to pay the costs his office incurs for body recoveries and rescues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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