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Arpaio seeks to improve relationship with Hispanic leaders

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PHOENIX -

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's hard line immigration enforcement tactics have created a major rift between himself and Hispanics. A rift -- he's been saying the past few months -- that he wants to repair.

The first steps towards that have been taken this week.

When Sheriff Joe Arpaio and members of the Hispanic community have come face to face in the past, it's usually been a tense situation. But earlier this week, the sheriff and a group of Hispanic leaders were in the same room.

The issue at hand -- better understanding each other.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio smiled, standing shoulder to shoulder with Hispanic community leaders. No protests signs. No marches. No arrests. And no TV cameras either.

"I was invited."

Sheriff Joe Arpaio says Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski orchestrated the meeting earlier this week.

"They were very nice, they prayed for me."

It was 5 months ago -- on the night of his re-election -- that Sheriff Arpaio appeared to be extending an olive branch to the Hispanic community.

Something he's repeated several times since.

Pastor Joe Garcia was at the meeting this week.

"The issues we are very concerned about is breaking up of the families," says Garcia. "We understand his job title but at the same time we need to let him know, we live the pain of the people, we live side by side with our people and we need to do something about it."

"They are concerned with my reputation with the Hispanic community and I was concerned about the kids fearing the sheriff. That's not me," says Arpaio.

It's the kind of dialogue between the two sides we're not used to hearing.

"There's a lot of misinformation about this sheriff," says Arpaio. "A lot of the hatred toward me is not right."

"We're not coming against him personally but the way he is running things," insists Garcia.

"They still have a disagreement on how I enforce the laws and they I understand I must enforce the laws," says Arpaio.

"My hope is that Sheriff Joe has a change of heart, that he sees this in a different way, that we Hispanics and spiritual leaders are seeing this," says Garcia.

"I know we disagree on a few situations but it was nice to be able to talk to them. Person to person and I'll be doing more of that," says Arpaio.

Both say they are open to more discussions. But Sheriff Joe remains adamant about enforcing immigration laws.

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