This Police Department In Arizona Just Adopted A More Humane Immigration Enforcement Policy

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Laurent Taillefer, Andrea Begay

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Police officers with the South Tucson Police Department (STPD) in Arizona will be prohibited from prolonging vehicle stops to determine the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants, according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) settlement reached on Monday with the city. The settlement is a win for immigrants in a state that originated the anti-immigration law known as SB 1070 in 2012, which many immigration advocates said encourages racial profiling.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down many of the major provisions of SB 1070, but it left in place — albeit with some limitations — the “show me your papers” provision, which allowed law enforcement officials to stop, detain, or arrest people if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is undocumented.

The settlement is a result of a racial profiling claim filed last year by the ACLU on behalf of Alex Valenzuela. According to his attorney, Valenzuela was detained by a police officer who allegedly said “something to the effect of ‘I’m going to get this guy because he has no ID.'” Valenzuela had been a passenger in his friend’s car at the time. He alleged in the complaint that despite presenting three forms of identification — his community college ID, his bus ID, and an ID from a local worker center — the police officer still took him directly to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, bypassing the police station completely. The complaint stated that Valenzuela was detained by Border Patrol officials for about five hours and released after he was able to provide documentation that he was eligible under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is a 2012 presidential initiative that grants temporary legal presence and work authorization to some undocumented immigrants.

The settlement will overhaul the STPD’s immigration enforcement policies through 14 measures, including ensuring that STPD officers cannot stop vehicles in order to determine whether drivers or passenger are in the United States without authorization; making sure that officers don’t relay on factors of race; prohibiting officers from personally taking individuals to a federal immigration facility; and making sure that officers release individuals after the original justification for a stop unless there is “additional reasonable suspicion of a crime that would justify further detention.” The new STPD policy will also require officers to fill out a form every time they contact an immigration official.

According to 2010 census data, Arizona is the ninth largest state with an undocumented population — most of its 360,000 undocumented immigrants live in Tucson and Phoenix. SB 1070 has long been scrutinized for unfairly targeting Latinos and the lawsuits have only piled on over the years. In places like Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix), Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his anti-immigration antics that have landed him in hot water with the federal court, was ordered a court-appointed monitor by a judge who found that the Sheriff’s Office had engaged in discrimination practices through its immigration enforcement efforts. Despite the monitor, just last week, Arpaio released a press statement which stated that currently, two out of every five individuals in his county jail are undocumented immigrants.