LA mayor: If Suns win, we get sheriff

LOS ANGELES -- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hates Arizona's tough new law on illegal immigration. But he'll take "America's toughest sheriff."

Villaraigosa has offered a politically tinged bet to his Phoenix counterpart as the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns meet in the Western Conference finals -- a series that opened this week with picketing at Staples Center over Lakers coach Phil Jackson's remarks defending the law's constitutionality. The Lakers lead the series 1-0.

In a letter Monday to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, Villaraigosa said that if the Suns win the series, Los Angeles will "humbly" accept ownership of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- an outspoken advocate of tough immigration enforcement.

"Perhaps a stint in Los Angeles would teach him that you cannot deduce immigration status simply by looking at a person," Villaraigosa wrote.

A call seeking comment from Gordon was not immediately returned.

However, Arpaio said he believed that Gordon, a frequent critic of his, called Villaraigosa "on his secret telephone" and agreed to include the sheriff in the wager.

"If I went to Los Angeles, I'll teach them how the sheriff operates here in Arizona," said Arpaio, who has earned a reputation for such measures as putting jail inmates in tents and making them wear pink underwear.

Arizona is the nation's busiest gateway for illegal border crossings, and the federal government has estimated that 460,000 illegal immigrants live in the state.

Arizona's law, which takes effect on July 29, makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and directs local police to question people about their immigration status and demand to see their documents if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

Villaraigosa calls the law unpatriotic.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to stop doing city business with Arizona or companies based in that state.

The Arizona law mirrors many of the policies Arpaio has put into place in the Phoenix area, where he set up a hotline for the public to report immigration violations, conducts crime and immigration sweeps in heavily Latino neighborhoods, and raids workplaces for people in the U.S. illegally.

In recent years his deputies have arrested some 2,000 illegal immigrants on federal immigration violations even though they weren't charged with state crimes.

Should the Lakers win, Los Angeles would give Phoenix California Republican gubernatorial candidates Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, Villaraigosa said.

"Perhaps some time in Arizona," Villaraigosa said, "would show them both that being governor isn't always all it's cracked up to be."

Both candidates have campaign ads promising to get tough on illegal immigration.

"The best thing for California would be a Lakers win followed by a Steve Poizner victory because as governor Steve will have the courage to address illegal immigration," said a statement from Jarrod Agen, Poizner's communications director.

A call to Whitman's campaign seeking comment was not immediately returned.