SB 1070: Victims, Witnesses Can Be Questioned About Immigration Status Under Phoenix PD's Post-1070 Operations Order

Categories: SB 1070 Redux

The policy does not allow officers to detain an individual if that individual is wanted by ICE for a mere civil immigration violation. Officers are required to fill out a form referring the matter to ICE after releasing the person. In the case of a criminal immigration violation, the suspect would be transferred to ICE's custody.

If someone is suspected of violating a state law, that person would be booked into county jail and an immigration hold placed on them, according to the revised policy.

Thompson said that last year, the department had only three arrests for 1070 violations, but pro-immigrant activists say the department's new policy opens the door to racial profiling, and that a law enforcement officer could find a reason to arrest someone after beginning an immigration inquiry. Having a forged I.D., being just one such reason.

Victoria Lopez, a lawyer specializing in immigrant rights with the ACLU of Arizona, said she had been unaware of the revision to the operations order. She characterized the changes as being "discouraging" and "deeply troubling," and was critical of the open-ended discretion given to line officers.

"The issue with the whole thing is mandating the discretion to racially profile," Lopez said. "This is what this is boiling down to." 

The revised policy prohibits officers from arresting or detaining individuals based on race. But Lopez contends that when officers are granted such latitude, matters such as race, ethnicity and language inevitably factor in.

Phoenix is not the only city in the state to revise its immigration policy in the wake of 1070. The Mesa Police Department, for instance, cautions its officers to take into consideration whether someone is a victim, witness or juvenile before inquiring about immigration status. However, it does not prohibit such inquiries as it did in the past.

After District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton enjoined the heart of 1070, including a provision to have law enforcement officials the check immigration status and the I.D. of someone where a "reasonable suspicion" existed that the individual was in the country illegally, there has been a general assumption by much of the public that 1070 is on hold, pending its review before the U.S. Supreme Court in April.

Yet Phoenix Police Department Operations Order 4.48 is one sign that 1070's insidious influence persists, albeit not in full force.

"Because we're so preoccupied with SB 1070 and Arpaio, and because you've seen [some city officials] come out against Arpaio, we dropped our guard with the city," Garcia told me.

Garcia hopes to change that with Friday's rally, where he plans to call out the City of Phoenix for being a "quiet accomplice" to the enforcement antics of Arpaio's office.He's also submitted a lengthy public records request for details and statistics regarding the Phoenix Police Department's immigration enforcement.

I too find the fact that victims and witnesses can be questioned concerning their status to be worrisome, though I can also understand the Phoenix Police Department's legal predicament considering the dictates of 1070.

More worrisome is what awaits us after the U.S. Supreme Court rules. If the high court does not strike down 1070 or at least uphold Bolton's injunction, Arizona will endure yet another tsunami of fear, panic and prejudice. 

The sheer ugliness of what may transpire sends a chill up my spine. As bad as things are now for the undocumented in this state, there's potential for the situation to be far, far worse.

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