For two hours Tuesday, dozens of Pima County residents argued before the Board of Supervisors that accepting Operation Stonegarden money from the federal government makes the county complicit in racial profiling and family separation.
Thomas Torres was not available for comment.
Torres, as you may have read, is the 18-year-old Desert View High School senior who was stopped in a car by a sheriff’s deputy on patrol Thursday night, then handed over to the Border Patrol. The nearly lifelong Tucson resident, brought here as a young child, was being held in immigration detention as his May 22 graduation date approaches. Late Tuesday, though, he was released from detention after a five-day stay.
What Torres’ experience shows is, you don’t need Operation Stonegarden to have family separation. You also don’t need Stonegarden for racial profiling to occur, though there’s no evidence that happened in Torres’ case. In fact, the approval Tuesday by county supervisors of the Stonegarden funding came with new conditions, meaning those federally funded patrols are more scrutinized and therefore probably less likely to result in problematic enforcement than the routine patrols and investigations that make up most of any department’s activity.
Like the patrol that Deputy Jeffrey Creller was on Thursday night. He was working in the unincorporated area where Torres was driving, near South Alvernon Way and East Drexel Road. Creller saw a 2006 Kia Spectra and didn’t detect any traffic violations, but he called in the license plate and found the car had an expired registration and an insurance suspension, so he pulled it over.
Creller details in his incident report that he had trouble getting Torres to identify himself. Torres acknowledged driving without a license and gave an inaccurate Social Security number, but then he produced a high school ID with his name on it. Creller viewed it as evidence of further deception, but it more likely was evidence of cultural confusion on the deputy’s part.
“Thomas was able to produce a high school identification card from (Desert) View High School. On this card was the name Thomas Torres Maytorena. At this time Thomas clarified with me, when I pointed out to him the misinformation, that he goes by Thomas Torres; however, his legal surname is Maytorena,” Creller’s report says.
Anybody who is from Mexico or the rest of Latin America, or has even spent much time there, could likely have explained the confusion to Creller. In those countries, the common convention for last names is that each person has two of them: The father’s last name first, and the mother’s last name second, without a hyphen. Often people go by both last names, but sometimes they just use the father’s last name.
Football rosters from Torres’ high school career show he went by Torres then, too. So calling himself Torres, not Maytorena, was not evidence of deception, or “misinformation,” as the deputy called it. That appears to have played some role in Deputy Creller suggesting Torres was in the country illegally.
The report goes on, “Again, I very firmly but politely indicated to Mr. Maytorena, as I had now come to know him at this time, that he needed to be completely honest as to his true identity. I then began to indicate that regardless of the reasons he may be attempting to hide his identity and not be upfront, to include but not limited to him having a warrant, being an illegal immigrant or having a suspended license, none of which would be acceptable to conceal his identity from me.”
Then, the report says, “Mr. Maytorena indicated to me that he is an undocumented illegal immigrant.”
Would it have made a difference to the deputy if he had known that Thomas Torres is his real name, not a deceptive one? I suspect so.
Torres was also arrested in early April. He was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and released. The court filing on his arrest lists his name as Thomas Antonio Torres. Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier noted there was not confusion about his name in that arrest, and if there hadn’t been the second time, “In all probability he would have been cited and released.”
With the renewed acceptance of Operation Stonegarden money, there will be a series of conditions that Napier has accepted. Each contact by a deputy taking part in Operation Stonegarden will be registered and explained. No deputies will participate in Border Patrol checkpoints. Deputies will never be cross-deputized as federal immigration agents in the program previously known as 287(g). Each contact by the sheriff’s department with the Border Patrol will be tracked. And of course, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been removed from the jail.
These are significant concessions the sheriff has made related to the acceptance of Stonegarden money. But what about the day-to-day, routine patrols that have nothing to do with Stonegarden? The sheriff, when I asked him about Creller’s stop of Torres, approved of his handling of it, and noted that it was the Border Patrol’s decision, not the sheriff’s department’s choice, to take Torres away.
“If a person admits to being in violation of federal immigration law, I don’t expect them to look the other way,” Napier said. “I believe our deputy did exactly what he should do and acted in a reasonable and appropriate manner.”
I’m not so sure. I have no problem with the deputy citing him for driving without a license and other vehicular violations. But by his own report, the deputy asked Torres to say if he was in the country illegally, prompting the admission by an undoubtedly intimidated teen. And the deputy may have misinterpreted Torres’ responses as being misleading. This didn’t have to lead to a Border Patrol call.
Now that Stonegarden funding has been re-approved, but with conditions that will keep it monitored, it’s these run-of-the-mill stops we really need to watch.