ACLU Says Tucson Police Department Violates Constitutional Rights in Use of SB 1070 "Show Me Your Papers" Law
Ongoing Monitoring of SB 1070 Implementation Results in New Racial Profiling Incident
April 4, 2014
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TUCSON – The American Civil Liberties Union has initiated a second legal claim against an Arizona police department that stems from the implementation of the “show me your papers” provision of SB 1070, saying the law continues to result in the violation of people’s constitutional rights.
Today’s legal claim against the Tucson Police Department (TPD) on behalf of Agustin Reyes and Arturo Robles concerns a stop last October 8th by Tucson police officers who stopped and detained the two men after tailing their van. The officers claimed to have stopped the van for having a broken license plate light but within minutes after requesting vehicle records an officer asked the two men “where they were from.” The officers asked Mr. Reyes for his driver’s license, and Mr. Robles for identification, which neither man had. Both cooperated by giving their names to the officers. Officers detained the two men and called Border Patrol.
“This is racial profiling, pure and simple,” said Christine P. Sun, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Mr. Reyes and Mr. Robles were detained for no other reason than for the police to look into their immigration status and call the Border Patrol. This type of harassment should not be tolerated.”
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents arrived and took the men into custody. Mr. Reyes ultimately received a citation for a broken license place light, and for driving without a license, which he paid in full. Mr. Robles, the passenger in the vehicle, was not charged with any crime or violation stemming from the incident.
“At that moment I felt so helpless,” said Agustin Reyes. “It’s so difficult to be in that situation, because you assume the police are there to protect people. When this happened, I thought they would call the Border Patrol, and that’s exactly what they did. Many people are afraid to call the police now because they believe they will be harassed as I was.”
When Border Patrol attempted to leave with the two detained men, a group of people from the nearby Southside Presbyterian Church gathered, according to a report by the Arizona Daily Star. Their protest was the culmination of community frustration about TPD’s ongoing, misguided efforts to enforce immigration law ever since the passage of SB 1070. The news report also noted that police officers used pepper spray to disperse the crowd of about 100 people. At the time, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor held a press conference to defend the officers’ actions.
“Though Chief Villaseñor has opposed SB1070 in the past, his department’s recent actions speak louder than words,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “His officers are hiding behind SB 1070 to justify prioritizing immigration enforcement above public safety, and these practices are creating an even greater divide between Tucson police and the community. He has adopted Arpaio-style policing practices that are impermissible under our Constitution, including questioning passengers about their immigration status and detaining people based on nothing more than skin color. It’s time to hold him accountable and stop these abusive practices.”
In 2012, 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. Monitoring of law enforcement’s implementation of the “show me your papers” provision has shown that—just as the ACLU and other civil rights groups have argued—the law unconstitutionally authorizes and encourages illegal police practices.
Last year, the ACLU took action against the South Tucson Police Department (STPD) on behalf of a man who was unlawfully detained by officers and turned over to the Border Patrol. That claim charged false arrest and imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure and violation of his equal protection under the law. Negotiations about the claim are currently underway between the STPD and 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.
Click here for a copy of the ACLU’s notice of claim on Mr. Reyes and Mr. Robles’ behalf.
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