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Schools Are No Longer Safe in Arizona

Educators and attorneys fear that police could enforce the state’s new immigration law in the public schools.
 
 
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PHOENIX, Ariz -- Schools may no longer be safe zones for undocumented students in Arizona. Educators and attorneys fear that police could enforce the state’s new immigration law in the public schools.

Nothing in Arizona’s SB 1070, the law that makes it a crime to be undocumented in the state, exempts minors from being questioned by police when there is probable cause, according to several legal experts.

“If they don’t commit a crime, they won’t be asking them. If a student commits a crime, it’s always been the case that they could inquire about their legal residence,” said Arizona Superintendent of Education Tom Horne.

The new legislation, which is expected to go into effect at the end of July, has raised questions about what it will mean for school resource officers – law enforcement agents who work in educational institutions. Concerned that these officers could enforce the new law inside schools, some Arizona school districts are considering filing a lawsuit against SB 1070.

Some legal experts believe the new Arizona law clashes with a Supreme Court decision that grants undocumented minors access to education.

But in Arizona, questions have long been raised about police departments’ interaction with undocumented students.

Even before SB 1070 was signed into law at the end of April, some agencies already had policies to contact immigration authorities and inquiry about a person’s immigration status regardless of his or her age.

On April 6, for example, a Scottsdale Police Department resource officer working at Coronado High School questioned a 14-year-old student who allegedly stole an iPod from a classmate. The student was arrested. His parents were called to come pick him up, but while he was at the police station the officer inquired about the student’s legal status with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Now, with the passage of SB 1070, educators are even more worried about the safety of undocumented students.

“There’s nothing that protects minors. There’s no age distinction in SB 1070. So what we have is a formula for disaster,” said attorney Richard Martinez, who represents two police officers as plaintiffs in two of the lawsuits against SB 1070.

Martinez said that the presence of police inside schools raises serious questions about what will happen to children who are victims of a crime.

The Phoenix Police Department would not comment on how SB 1070 would impact the work of school resource officers in Arizona.

Mark Spencer, director of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a union that represents more than 2,000 police officers in the state, believes that what happened in the Scottsdale high school would not happen in Phoenix.

“We are going to assume a person is in the country legally, unless there’s reasonable suspicion to indicate otherwise. A student committing theft doesn’t lead us to believing he’s here illegally,” said Spencer who spoke in favor of SB 1070

But Lyle Mann, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, the agency in charge of developing guidelines for the enforcement of the new law, said the law would not be enforced any differently for minors.

“If there’s an arrest, it doesn’t matter if it is on school grounds or not, then SB 1070 applies and they’ll have to verify their citizenship. It’s no different if it happens at the mall,” said Mann.

His agency is expected to provide guidelines on how to enforce the new law by June 30. The training is not mandatory but will be made available to all law enforcement agencies in the state via video.