Three Years After Passing Its 'Papers, Please' Law, Arizona Is Divided by Distrust and Fear
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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Police pulling people over for minor infractions and asking for documents, rape victims too afraid to call the police, children living in fear of having their parents taken away.
These were some of the stories shared by community members and immigrant advocates in Arizona, who testified before a state civil rights board this week on the enforcement of a state immigration law they say has increased racial profiling and police mistrust.
“SB 1070 is being used as a tool to intimidate and hurt communities, “ Lydia Guzman, national chairman of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LULAC) Immigration Committee, told the board.
Almost three years after the bill was signed into law making it mandatory for police to contact immigration authorities if they suspect someone was in the country illegally, the Arizona Civil Rights Advisory Board (ACRAB) heard testimony from undocumented immigrants themselves.
The board is a volunteer group of bipartisan members appointed by the governor that has the power to make recommendations to different state agencies, but doesn’t create policy.
Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that a pronouncement from the board could have a deterrence effect, helping to curb racial profiling by law-enforcement agencies in the state.
For example, in 2008, the board wrote a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging an investigation into alleged racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. It also asked immigration authorities to rescind a 287(g) agreement that allowed deputies to act as immigration officers.
In both cases, pressure from the board as well as others yielded results, prompting a DOJ investigation and the reversal of the 287 (g) agreement.
“They can put pressure and make public statements, even if they can’t order a particular sheriff to change practices,” said Pochoda.
Pochoda urged the board to recommend that law enforcement start tracking data and statistics of traffic stops to detect racial profiling, and have policies to prohibit the referral of victims and witnesses of crimes to immigration authorities.
Board chairman Jeff Lavender said he would look into the possibility of making such a recommendation.
Pochoda also addressed the situation of Dreamers, who are in the process of applying for deferred action, and sometimes are subject to detention by police officers who are unclear about their immigration status due to SB 1070 provisions.
Cesar Valdes, was pulled over by Phoenix police over his car’s registration – that turned out not to be expired-- but was held for almost a full day until immigration could confirm he was applying for deferred action.
“There has to be something in place, because I’m not the only one,” said Valdes in his testimony. “There’s been several cases of Dreamers like me [who] have been detained and put in detention for more than 20 hours.”
Dulce Juarez, a coordinator of the immigrant rights project for ACLU, said the group has documented over 500 calls through its hotline since the implementation of SB 1070.
Her agency has identified cases in which police questioned witnesses and victims of crimes about their immigration status, as well as passengers in vehicles with no reasonable suspicion of any crime being committed.
State of Fear
The board heard a wide array of testimony that pointed out how SB 1070 has been used as an excuse to racially profile people, or as an intimidation tactic.
LULAC's Guzman testified about the case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped. The rape went unreported, and her pregnancy carried on as she lived under the threat that her rapist was going to report her family to immigration authorities. The case was finally reported to police when it came to Guzman’s attention.
“This could have been caught earlier,” Guzman said.
Several mothers testified about feeling unsafe.
“I’m scared of taking my child to school, and I’m also afraid to go to the store. I’m worried about my husband when he goes to work, because I don’t know if he’ll return,” said Rosalba Posadas, an undocumented immigrant.
Others like Maria Vargas, are worried about the safety of their children in school.
“We’re afraid of these people [who] are volunteers of the sheriff. We don’t know who they are and they’re patrolling our children’s schools,” said Vargas, referring to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office posse that mobilized in response to school shootings.
The majority of the testimonies detailed encounters with police officers by Latino citizens and immigrants, where the reason for the stop was a minor traffic violation or no violation at all. For those who were undocumented, it triggered a process of deportation.
SB 1070 was enjoined as soon as it took effect on July 29, 2010 by federal judge Susan Bolton in the District Court of Phoenix, blocking several parts of it, including a provision that made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. Another part -- known as section “2b”-- took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the injunction on June 2012, making it mandatory for police to ask for documents.
“It became very clear that the section 2b was really a legalization [of] racial profiling,” said Isabel Garcia, attorney and director of the pro-immigrant coalition, Derechos Humanos in Tucson, Ariz.
Garcia added her voice to those of several other civil and human rights groups like the ACLU that have hotlines to document allegations of racial profiling and other forms of police abuse connected to immigration enforcement.
“The difference between Phoenix and Tucson is that in Tucson you’re deported within two hours,” she said, due to its proximity to Mexico and the presence of a Border Patrol station.
Flores, who was appointed to the board by former Democratic governor and now secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, lauded the courage of those who were willing to speak out.
“We heard some very powerful stories, so many brave people [who came] here and admitted their status to us, “ she said.
“I didn’t even know that there was a board,” said Viridiana Hernández, a founder of Team Awesome, a Latino vote mobilization group and a Dreamer, adding: “What I hate about this forum is that we come and talk, it happens year [after] year.
"My question is what are you going to do as a Civil Rights Advisory Board?”