Photo: Maria Inés Taracena
Jose, left, and Miriam outside City Hall Tuesday evening.
Twelve-year-old Jose Escobar Perez spoke at the City Council meeting this evening on behalf of his father, Roman Escobar, who was apprehended by immigration officials in the beginning of June, after Tucson Police officers allegedly called Border Patrol during a minor traffic stop.
"I wasn't there, but my mom came home crying and I was worried what happened to her and I asked her what happened," he told the City Council members. "I don't know why he got pulled over, he is the only one that helps us survive, and... I just want to say that I really want my dad back."
See, TPD isn't supposed to do that anymore, according to recent policy changes on how it deals with certain undocumented individuals.
In February, the department adjusted how it's been enforcing SB 1070
, Arizona's so-called "show me your papers" law. The revised language of TPD's General Orders recognizes that mere "unauthorized presence is not a crime," and that immigration enforcement should not trickle down to local law enforcement agencies, rather it should be the federal government's job to deal with it.
In December, TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor announced the police would not get involved with immigration agencies unless those suspected undocumented individuals have felonies on their records, are affiliated with a gang, are identified as terrorists, or pose a threat to national security. The changes better matched the Department of Homeland Security's criteria, and President Barack Obama's 2014 immigration actions, which also reinforced that the government should focus on deporting criminals. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement is very up-and-down with its apprehension and deportation rules, too
Villaseñor told the Tucson Weekly in March that when TPD began to keep track of statistics, they noticed that of the more than 11,000 calls police made to Border Patrol since summer of last year, the agency responded to less than 100, because some of those cases did not fit their enforcement criteria.
Obama's immigration executive actions are temporarily blocked, but DHS's memos are not.
On the night of June 8, Roman, his wife Miriam and their 5-year-old daughter were pulled over over a minor traffic violation by what appeared to be an undercover police vehicle near Pueblo High School, according to the Protection Network Coalition, which includes the Southside Worker Center and several other immigration rights groups.
"The police officer gave Roman a ticket for an expired license and license plate, called for the car to be impounded and informed Roman that he would be able to leave with his family," the coalition says in a press release. "Roman was never told that he was free to go after being issued the ticket. While Roman and his family were waiting, another police car—this one, a marked car—arrived on the scene. After a brief exchange between the officers, an officer approached Roman and told him that Border Patrol was coming for him."
Miriam says Roman has never committed any crimes, but that he does have a previous deportation from five yeas ago.
Several members of the coalition, along with Miriam and her three children—who are all U.S. citizens—attended the City Council meeting as a form of protest, and to ask council members to hold TPD accountable.
They want a written response from Villaseñor, "detailing the consequences the officer(s) will face for violating TPD policies and how TPD plans to ensure these violations will not happen again."
(Added after publication on June 24 at 8:50 a.m.):
A Tucson Police spokesperson, who was not present at the scene, says other factors, aside from the expired license plate and license, were involved, leading up to calling Border Patrol. Agents were simply following the department's procedures. He also says he hasn't heard of any policy changes within TPD, and that all agents receive proper training to deal with these situations.
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich says she emailed Villaseñor this morning to get a mayor and council memo, or anything in writing, that might explain whether officers are following the SB 1070 implementation changes, if the latter are still in place, and if the department follows up with officers who don't obey protocol. Uhlich also sent Villaseñor Miriam and Jose's testimonies.
"I was surprised at the news that something may be going sideways," she tells the Tucson Weekly. "We need an update and review of what is going on out there. It also seems like the family did not know they could leave after the citation was issued. People need to understand their rights in regards to traffic citations...that they are free to leave. That is an explicit direction that should be in the General Orders. It was news to all of us last night that something is going sideways."