ACLU Files First Lawsuit Challenging Officers' Use of SB 1070 "Show Me Your Papers" Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
September 25, 2014 2:42 pm

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Civil Liberties Group Says Arizona Law Enforcement Continues to Violate Constitutional Rights Under Discriminatory Law

September 25, 2014

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PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Phoenix on behalf of an Arizona woman who spent five days in the custody of immigration authorities after a Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy “cited and released” her following a traffic stop, then instructed another sheriff’s deputy to transport her to a nearby Border Patrol station. The lawsuit brings a Fourth Amendment claim against the deputies for prolonging her detention solely based on a suspicion that she was an undocumented immigrant. At the time of her detention, the woman, Maria Cortes, had a pending U-visa application stemming from her status as a victim of domestic violence.

“When the officer who stopped me asked if I had a visa, I offered to show him a copy of my pending U-visa application that I keep in the glove compartment of the car but he said he wasn’t interested in that,” said Ms. Cortes. “They put me in the police car, never told me why they were taking me or where I was going, which really worried me because I didn’t know what would happen to my children — the five days I spent detained were a nightmare for me.”

The incident occurred on September 29, 2012; Ms. Cortes was granted a U-visa less than a year later.

Since the “show me your papers” provision of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070 went into effect two years ago, the ACLU has documented numerous cases of racial profiling and illegal detentions by law enforcement officials throughout the state. In Tucson alone, the ACLU has filed several “Notices of Claim” alleging that law enforcement officers regularly engage in racial profiling and illegal detention as a result of the law. This is the first federal lawsuit to challenge application of the “show me your papers” law in Arizona. Today’s case challenges the actions of two deputies of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, which is headed by Sheriff Paul Babeu. Along with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Sheriff Babeu has been among the most outspoken law enforcement supporters of SB 1070.

“We have argued all along that this law encourages abuse, particularly based on racial profiling of individuals who in the course of a routine stop are presumed to be undocumented simply because of the color of their skin or the way they speak,” said Christine P. Sun, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We continue to find cases of abuse stemming from this law, so we will continue to challenge it.”

Last year, the ACLU took action against the South Tucson Police Department (STPD) on behalf of an individual who was detained by officers without any legal basis and turned over to the Border Patrol. The claim charged false arrest and imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure and violation of his equal protection under the law. A lawsuit was averted in May of this year after STPD agreed to overhaul the department’s policies with respect to immigration enforcement.

Other Arizona municipalities, including Phoenix and Tucson, have resisted calls for reform despite mounting evidence of abuse. In Tucson, numerous members of the Southside Worker’s Center have been stopped by Tucson Police for minor traffic infractions. In August, Tucson police referred Southside workers to Border Patrol on two occasions in the same week. Tucson police have detained workers without legal authority and for the sole purpose of referring them to Border Patrol, and notwithstanding the fact that SB 1070’s provisions targeting day laborers have been declared unconstitutional. The ACLU sent Notices of Claim to the City of Tucson arising out of two of those stops, but the City missed the deadline to respond, and has refused to adopt numerous reforms proposed by Southside workers and by the ACLU.

Other abuses documented by the ACLU that have occurred because of Section 2(B) include:

  • Mesa Police Department’s jailing of a 67-year-old Latino citizen after he picked a water bottle out of a trash can at a convenience store;
  • Casa Grande Police Department’s jailing and transporting to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a passenger of a car that was stopped for having a burnt-out taillight;
  • Tucson Police Department’s questioning of a woman about her immigration status after she called on them to assist her in a domestic violence situation; and
  • Phoenix Police Department’s unconstitutional search and detention of a legal resident who was questioned about his immigration status while picking up his car from an impound lot.

In addition to the legal claims against STPD and TPD, the ACLU and its partners have been talking with police departments and local governments across the state to inform them about the law’s basic failings, explaining that SB 1070 doesn’t trump the U.S. Constitution or provide an excuse for discriminatory policing.

A copy of the complaint, Cortes v. Lakosky, is at:

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