Maria Inés Taracena
Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa, long-time Tucson immigration rights advocate, at a protest against SB 1070 back in 2013.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona says the Tucson Police Department deliberately prolongs traffic stops in an effort to enforce a section of SB 1070 and check people's immigration status—which is in violation of TPD's own policies and constitutional rights, an ACLU of Arizona press release says.
The organization sent a letter to new TPD Chief Chris Magnus
today demanding the department to change its SB 1070 enforcement procedures, based on a review of TPD's traffic stop records from June 2014 to December 2015, which, according to the ACLU of Arizona, showed "constitutional problems" in most of the stops reviewed—85 out of roughly 110 cases where TPD got Border Patrol involved. Many of the stops were over minor traffic violations that "led to unlawfully prolonged detention, including transport to Border Patrol custody," the press release says.
More than a dozen records revealed immigration checks producing false positives, or “hits,” resulting in extended detention of U.S. citizens and other lawfully present individuals. In some cases, families with young children were detained roadside in order for the parents to be handed over to Border Patrol agents.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently said in the case Rodriguez v. United States
that any traffic stop lasting longer than seven or eight minutes past the time needed to address the alleged violation is unconstitutional. TPD data shows the department's routine stops last anywhere between 15 minutes to three hours to wait for Border Patrol to show up. Most of the stops reviewed by the ACLU of Arizona were between one and two hours long, the press release says.
The letter highlights more than twenty case examples, including:
A mother driving her two children to school was stopped and found to have a suspended license, for which she could have been cited and released. Instead, TPD detained her until Border Patrol arrived to take custody, over an hour after the officer’s immigration check and one hour and twenty minutes after the stop was initiated.
Two individuals stopped for speeding identified themselves as “DREAMers.” The officer advised them “they were being detained as they had provided no evidence of being in the US legally” even though that is not a crime and gave the officer no authority to detain them. The officer requested Border Patrol respond to the scene. Border Patrol arrived but declined to take either subject into custody and the stop was concluded—one and a half hours after it was initiated.
A driver was stopped and found to have a suspended license. The officer conducted an immigration check, which indicated the driver was undocumented. Border Patrol arrived and determined the driver was a U.S. citizen—one hour after the immigration check was initiated. TPD cited and released the driver four minutes later.
Records also showed that TPD officers have not received specific training on the department's immigration policy since July 2014. At the time, the ACLU of Arizona says, TPD agents merely took a 12-page online training course.
Last year, former TPD chief Roberto Villaseñor announced changes to TPD's SB 1070 enforcement
rules—the police would not get involved with immigration enforcement unless those detained 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 executive action, which reinforced that the government should focus on deporting criminals.
The letter sent to Magnus details policy changes recommendations and demands Magnus to launch an immediate review of TPD's immigration policy and to "implement all necessary changes to ensure officers are not exceeding the lawful scope of their authority," as well as to limit Border Patrol involvement and oversight in routine traffic stops.
The ACLU of Arizona also submitted a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for an investigation into Border Patrol’s "improper involvement" in TPD traffic stops," the press release says.
Added after publication:
Magnus sent a statement on Monday afternoon that said he plans to meet with the ACLU next week.
"I plan to give thoughtful consideration to the issues raised in the letter with an eye toward identifying any opportunities to improve our training, policies, and practices...Information in the ACLU letter will be of value in our evolving efforts to retain and further strengthen a trusting relationship with all members of the community, as we endeavor to fairly enforce the law," the statement said.