Latinos Continue To Be (Illegally) Told, 'Show Me Your Papers!'

A number of states have passed 'Show me your papers' laws, but it's not legal to enforce them until the courts weigh in. That's not stopping police.

Saul Razcon was driving on Tuscon’s I-10 when he was stopped by the Arizona Highway patrol in August 2010, ostensibly for a broken window. He was asked for his driver’s license. However, the officer proceeded to ask for the license of the passenger driving with him in his car. Then, he asked the three young girls who were present with them in the backseat – aged 11, 13 and 17 – if they had “papers.”

Jamie Juarez’s stepdaughter’s friend was scared and simply did what a good girl should do: she told a highway patrol officer the truth when she was asked questions. As a result, she was deported back to Mexico along with her friend.

ICE officials were called to the scene and proceeded to detain the three young girls. If Jamie Juarez had not rushed in a panic to the scene and presented his stepdaughter's papers, she might have been deported. After being detained in an ICE facility, his stepdaughter’s friends, who were sisters, were both sent to Sonora, Mexico.


Juarez, shaken and angry, told AlterNet that “Saul was stopped for next to nothing. The officer told me that he didn't know if they were ‘terrorists or criminals.’ This greatly offended me and made me think that this man was racist and shouldn't be working as a police officer. I assume he won't be reprimanded, because Arizona is plagued with problems like these.”

In a similar gripping account that also took place alongside “show me your papers” legislation being passed, on May 24, a citizen was driving Maximo Jarquin, an undocumented construction worker, to the store in Crossvile, Alabama. A police officer pulled the car over for a broken tail light, but demanded that Jarquin show his “papers,” even though he was not driving. Jarquin was arrested, denied access to a phone call for four days, shipped to a detention facility in Pennsylvania for six weeks (which was quite possibly a for-profit facility; see the “business of detention”), and finally deported to Mexico.

“Maximo was our sole provider and the father of our two children, as well as one I have on the way,” a teary-eyed three-months pregnant Tiffany Sadler told AlterNet. “We were forced to lose our home and move in with my mother.”

Jose Contreras has owned El Sol, a Mexican grocery store in Albertville, Alabama, which provides a variety of services to the immigrant community, for the last 14 years. Contreras says business has significantly decreased as of late, but he doesn't attribute this to the economy. Instead, he says that a climate of fear has been constructed in Albertville leading to as much as a fifth of the immigrant community fleeing the area.

Contreras told AlterNet that Albertville has been “pilfered” by the police, particularly through a police checkpoint which has resulted in scores of deportations. “The checkpoint has been a nuisance to our community for the last two years, but since HB 56, I've heard of many more incidents of police detaining and sometimes deporting immigrants, about three to four accounts a week.”

In Georgia, police are detaining vehicles and demanding papers be presented as well. A group of Mexican refugee applicants were driving home from work on June 21 when a Polk county police officer detained a van with 15 people in it, in spite of no traffic infraction being indicated. The officer demanded to see their “green cards” and decided to let them off on a “warning,” threatening them by saying, “I am letting you go now. But, if I ever catch you on this road again, I am taking you in.”

What do all of these incidents have in common? They all occurred in states that have passed “Show me your papers” legislation. However, none of these states have legally enforceable mechanisms for implementing the legislation, as their enforcement dates are being held up in the courts. As a result, legal experts argue that the police actions noted above are illegal and a reflection of racial profiling.

Annie Lai, a teaching fellow at Yale University who was a legal consultant for Arizona’s American Civil Liberties Union when she took down the report of the two girls in Arizona being deported, told AlterNet, “We have seen many examples of police referring to new immigration laws as a reason to threaten people and ask them improper questions on traffic stops. Even though they couldn't do this legally, we have heard more accounts of them doing so.”

Azadeh Shahshahani, the director of the ACLU National Immigrants' Rights Project of Georgia, told AlterNet: “This is all of course very troubling in light of the fact that Georgia does not have an anti-racial profiling law on the books; as such, there is limited oversight and accountability for law enforcement engaging in racial profiling.”

Before the proliferation of "Show me your papers" laws, a Pew Center survey conducted in 2008 found that 10 percent of Latinos, or about 5 million people nationwide, had been asked by policies or other immigration authorities about their immigration status in the past year. Well over a third of documented citizens and residents reported fearing for themselves or their loved ones, in spite of their documented status.

“Latinos across the nation are feeling increasingly threatened to be questioned by polices authorities simply because of the way they look,” said Elena Acayo of La Raza, the leading Latino civil rights organization.

Arizona was the first of seven states to pass such a law, the now infamous HB 1070. Since HB 1070 was first signed into law on April 23, 2010, “show me your papers” legislative proposals proliferated throughout the nation, going far beyond Arizona. No less than two dozen states introduced pieces of legislation with “Show me your papers” aspects embedded in them at the outset of the year.

However, the majority of these states did not pass the proposals, partly because of stiff opposition and threatened or actual boycotts, and partly because of a number of reports documenting the runaway economic costs of implementing such legislation. Only seven actually passed and signed the proposed laws.

Of those seven states, all have been embroiled in protracted legal fights mounted by civil rights organizations, immigration advocates and even the federal government.

In Alabama, the most far-reaching of the laws was stayed recently for further consideration by a judge. In Georgia, two key provisions were enjoined by a district court in Atlanta on June 28. In Indiana, a judge enjoined several provisions of a similar law and the state, for the moment, has decided not to appeal it. In Utah, a judge issued an emergency preliminary injunction against its version and arguments are set for September 16th. And in South Carolina, plans are underway to challenge the law as its implementation date of January 2012 approaches.

The ACLU has been the leader among such groups behind the efforts, joined by a plethora of religious groups, community and civil rights organizations. “It's been a busy summer,” said Segura, who has been tracking fast-developing legal developments across the country.

Resistance Grows, Obama Administration Partially Responds

In light of continued efforts to obtain a path toward residency and/or citizenship for undocumented college students, a flurry of activism led by undocumented students and workers has ensued in recent months, adding to a trend seen throughout the Obama administration. It appears to have made some difference, as Obama administration officials were found to be backpedaling just a few weeks ago. An announcement was made, not too long after nationwide protest efforts, that 300,000 cases related to the controversial Secure Communities program would be evaluated on an individual basis, with the aim being to reduce the amount of deportations of undocumented minors.

In the meantime, whether or not immigrants' rights coalitions are successful in staving off attempts to pass “show me your papers” laws through actions in the courts, the dubious specter of local and state-level police officials taking matters into their own hands appears to remain intact for the time being. 

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