Councilwoman Regina Romero: Tucson police shouldn't ask immigration status of crime victims, witnesses

2013-11-11T00:00:00Z Councilwoman Regina Romero: Tucson police shouldn't ask immigration status of crime victims, witnessesBy Regina Romero Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Recent community protests and last month’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling striking additional sections of SB 1070 have brought Arizona’s infamous “papers, please” law back into the public spotlight. How we address this issue affects the security of our city and future opportunities for Tucson’s success in international trade and economic development with Mexico.

On Wednesday, the city’s mayor and council will discuss Tucson Police Department practices in relation to the law, and how Tucson can do a better job respecting the rights of all residents and visitors while keeping our community safe.

The mayor and council have taken multiple stands against SB 1070. When Arizona’s Republican-majority Legislature passed the law in 2010, we voted 6-1 to sue the state in opposition. We cited the inherent racial profiling that would result, the devastating effect the statute would have on community relations with law enforcement and the undue burden placed on local police.

Tucson Police Chief Robert Villaseñor echoed those concerns and voiced his opposition to the law. Last year, again in a 6-1 vote, the Tucson mayor and council voted to establish the city of Tucson as an Immigrant Welcoming City, celebrating our diversity and striving for continuous dialogue around ways we can support our immigrant population.

SB 1070 requires city compliance, but there are opportunities to define how we operate within the confines of the law. Working with immigration and legal experts in the community, I am proposing the following recommendations:

Prohibit officers from questioning victims and witnesses of crime about their legal status.

Currently, local law enforcement can question victims and witnesses of crime about their legal status. When communities fear the police, witnesses do not come forward to report crime, victims have nowhere to turn, and, as a result, the entire community is less safe.

Other Arizona communities are addressing this concern. Flagstaff Police Department Special Order 12-030 bars officers from questioning the immigration status of crime victims and witnesses, as well as individuals complaining about officer misconduct.

Even the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the agency representing Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has directed the same change because it could hinder an investigation with loss of witnesses. You may recall that Sheriff Joe’s office was recently sued and held liable for systemic racial profiling.

Prohibit officers from questioning juveniles about their immigration status without the presence of an attorney, parent or guardian.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized there is a heightened risk that juvenile suspects will falsely confess when pressured by police during an interrogation process. Juveniles frequently do not carry identification, and many young people do not fully understand their rights, options or alternatives while in custody.

Develop better stop-data collection methods and a create a community-outreach plan.

Tucson police need stronger data-collection tools and tracking mechanisms to more easily assess the outcomes of stops. The demographics and data of these encounters are not currently collected or stored in an accessible format, leaving questions for policymakers and the public.

Aggregate data can be used in the future to evaluate program efficacy and avoid potentially discriminatory practices.

Finally, establishing a community-outreach plan will provide an opportunity for the department to educate the public on SB 1070 and allow affected communities, including the 40 percent Latino and Latina population of Tucson, to forge stronger relations with local law enforcement.

We live in a progressive community that values diversity, and our city has proudly differentiated itself from the inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric we often hear from the Arizona Legislature.

Mexican tourists currently generate $1 billion for our local economy, and leaders statewide are looking to invest hundreds of millions in our transportation infrastructure to create an International Trade Corridor.

Now is the time to push back on SB 1070 and do what it takes to build a strong and meaningful Immigrant Welcoming City.

Regina Romero, a Democrat, represents Ward 1 on the Tucson City Council. Email her at Regina.Romero@tucsonaz.gov

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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