The Tucson City Council asked the police chief for more tweaks to his department’s immigration policies Tuesday as the debate over the bounds to SB 1070-mandated status checks roils on.
A provision of the state immigration law that took effect in September 2012 requires local law enforcement to try to check the status of anyone they stop if they come to believe those suspects are in the country illegally. An Arizona Daily Star investigation earlier this year revealed that departments across the state have adopted widely varying interpretations and protocols.
The Tucson council voted unanimously to add provisions prohibiting school resource officers from questioning students about their immigration status and barring officers from calling federal immigration officers for purposes unrelated to immigration, such as translation services, except in emergencies. The measures were introduced following a review of the policy adopted in South Tucson after negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union.
A third measure that Councilwoman Regina Romero proposed was put aside for more discussion about how strongly the department’s general orders can discourage questioning victims, witnesses and people who wish to file a complaint against the department about their immigration status.
Romero proposed that officers “shall not” question people in those groups about their status, but City Attorney Mike Rankin said he thought that ran afoul of another SB 1070 section meant to keep law-enforcement agencies from adding policies that would curtail immigration enforcement to “less than the fullest extent of the law.”
After the council’s last directions to the chief on SB 1070, in November, TPD issued revised policies that “strongly discourage” questioning victims and witnesses on these matters and prohibited questioning complainants.
Several council members — pointing to the two claims the ACLU has already filed against the city — said they would prefer to have Tucson err on the side of protecting civil rights rather than abiding by Arizona’s immigration law.
“We’re going to be sued, and in that case, I’d rather hold our values high,” Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said.
Immigrant-rights activists cautiously welcomed the changes Tuesday, but stressed that language explicitly barring questioning of victims and witnesses is necessary to restore community trust.
Uncertainty is the corrosive force, said Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa, an organizer with the Protection Network Coalition. “I believe prohibiting it isn’t going against SB 1070, but even if it is, what is more important?”
Until recently, it has been impossible for TPD to answer many questions about the impacts of its status checks because the only tracking it did was on paper.
The council directed TPD to improve stop-data collection in November, but technical issues led to delays, said Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor.
Presenting the database launched June 12, he broke down the newly revealed demographics. Since TPD added ethnicity to the information it collects on July 3, it found that about 44 percent of checks involved Hispanics — a number in line with census figures.
Of the 1,144 checks performed from June 12 through July 7, 15 led to a response from immigration officials, Villaseñor said. Eight people were taken into custody as a result.
Traffic citation and written warning data indicate that Hispanics are not disproportionately targeted, he said.
While the database should answer questions about how often federal officials respond and the most common reasons for stops leading to checks, officers are not required to list the observations that led them to conclude they had met the legal threshold of “reasonable suspicion” that forces a call. Councilman Steve Kozachik said he would like to see that added.