ACLU Puts Arizona Law Enforcement Agencies on Notice

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
November 12, 2013 12:00 am

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In First-Of-Its-Kind Legal Action, the ACLU Says the South Tucson Police Department is Violating Constitutional Rights in Use of the 'Show Me Your Papers' Law

November 12, 2013

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TUCSON – The American Civil Liberties Union is putting law enforcement agencies across Arizona on notice that they will be held accountable for constitutional violations that result from the implementation of the state's "show me your papers" law, Section 2(B) of SB 1070, an anti-immigrant statute enacted nearly three years ago.

The ACLU has initiated a legal claim against the South Tucson Police Department on behalf of Alex Valenzuela, a DREAMer who was unlawfully detained and taken to Border Patrol this summer by South Tucson officers.

The organization today sent a "notice of claim" letter to the police department, the first step in pursuing relief on Alex's behalf. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to enjoin Section 2(B) because it found a "basic uncertainty" about what the provision actually requires of law enforcement officers. Alex's situation and numerous others around the state, demonstrate that-just as the ACLU and other civil rights groups have argued-the law unconstitutionally authorizes and encourages illegal police practices. This is the first challenge to Section 2(B) since it went into effect in September of 2012.

Alex, 23, was a passenger in a parked car on July 13 when South Tucson police officers detained him in order to question him about his citizenship. Even though he provided multiple forms of identification and had not committed any crime, the officers unlawfully arrested and drove Alex to Border Patrol's Tucson Sector headquarters where he was detained for an additional five hours.

"It didn't matter to the officers that I hadn't committed a crime," Alex said. "This is what happens when you let police act like immigration officials and it's another example of why the police have lost the community's trust."

The South Tucson police detained Alex for no reason other than to investigate his citizenship and immigration status. Alex was not charged with a crime arising out of the incident at the time of the illegal detention nor has he been since. The notice of claim explains that the South Tucson police officers' actions amounted to false arrest, violated Alex's right to equal protection of the law and trampled his right to be free from unreasonable seizures.

"We've been informed of dozens of incidents where police have violated individuals' rights because of the 'show me your papers' law," said James Lyall, the ACLU of Arizona's Tucson-based border litigation attorney. "Officers are routinely harassing people who have committed no crime by demanding identification. Without major improvements to police policies and practices, these rights violations will persist. As the ACLU's recent victory against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio shows, the courts will hold Arizona police departments accountable for continued constitutional violations."

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

  • Mesa Police'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'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'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'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.

"Alex's claim against South Tucson PD is representative of policing problems throughout Arizona that have arisen since the enactment of Section 2(B)," said Christine P. Sun, an attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "Law enforcement should be protecting the community and ensuring public safety, not engaging in practices that single people out for treatment that is unlawful under our Constitution."

In addition to this legal claim, 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.

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