The South Tucson Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona have agreed to a new set of policies regulating how the department enforces immigration law.
In 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona's anti-immigration law known as SB 1070, it left in effect a section which required police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons, but who they suspect to be in the country illegally.
It was South Tucson Police Department's enforcement of that provision during a traffic stop in 2013 which caused the the ACLU of Arizona filed a notice of claim against the city.
Alex Valenzuela was transferred to Border Patrol custody last year when he was in a vehicle that was pulled over for a traffic stop in the city, said James Lyall, an attorney with the ACLU of Arizona. He represented Valenzuela, arguing he should not have been detained because he was not suspected of committing a crime at the time of the traffic stop.
In response to the notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, South Tucson Police began working with the ACLU of Arizona to come to an agreement about enforcement policy. Monday the two parties announced they agreed on a new set of policies for the department. The ACLU is satisfied with the result, Lyall said, and is not suing the department.
The new South Tucson policy requires officers fill out a detailed form any time they contact an immigration official. It also includes provisions the department was already following, such as not checking immigration status of a victim or witness to a crime, said Lt. Jeff Inorio of the South Tucson Police Department.
The new immigration form will help ensure oversight and accountability, he said.
“If somebody called me in a month from now and said hey how many times did you guys contact Border Patrol, I’ll be able to tell you exactly how many times, and at this point we weren’t able to do that," Inorio said.
The new South Tucson immigration enforcement policy also encourages officers to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to verify a person’s citizenship, instead of calling Border Patrol. Also, the department will conduct more training, Inorio said.
“We’ve also agreed to have some supervisor oversight, so officers just aren’t running amok and contacting Border Patrol whenever they feel like they need to. Not that we’ve done anything that’s contrary to state law," he said.
The ACLU of Arizona has filed claims with other police departments to try to get them to agree to change enforcement policies, Lyall said.
"We have presented many of these issues to other departments in the state, to Tucson, to Phoenix police departments, and they haven’t responded," Lyall said. “We certainly would hope that other municipalities around the state would look to South Tucson as a model and recognize that there are concrete steps they can take to mitigate the harms that SB 1070 has done.”
The U.S. Supreme Court said in 2012 that police departments in Arizona could enforce the portion of SB 1070 that required officers check a person’s immigration status. At that time, the justices said they weren’t ruling out a future case based on racial profiling.