In a coordinated legal blitz against one of the nation’s toughest anti-immigration statutes, the ACLU of Arizona last week accused the Tucson Police Department of violating protections included in the law, arguing that officers last year conducted an illegal stop of two men sitting in a van just because they were Hispanic.
It’s the second such charge lodged by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is trying to build a case that the state’s immigration law, known as SB 1070 and upheld in principle by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, is being applied in an unconstitutional manner.
In the latest case, the ACLU says Tucson police followed then stopped two men in a van. The ACLU says police demanded to know where the two men were from, accused them of being from Mexico and, after holding them for 30 minutes at the spot, turned them over to U.S. Border Patrol.
“This is racial profiling, pure and simple,” said Christine P. Sun, an ACLU attorney.
The Tucson Police Department acknowledged that the ACLU had filed the complaint, but neither the police department nor the city attorney could comment, citing potential litigation.
The Supreme Court two years ago struck down much of the Arizona immigration law, finding that the state was infringing on Congress’ power by trying to impose its own penalties on those who violated federal immigration laws.
Justices did approve the part of the law that allowed police to determine the legal status of those with whom they came into contact during their regular duties and who they had reasonable suspicion to believe were in the country illegally, and as long as the stop didn’t take too long.
But the court left open the question of whether residents could challenge that part of the law if police were found to be abusing it.
There have been some anecdotal reports of enforcement problems, but local press investigations have found it difficult to get a handle on exactly how police departments are implementing the law.
The Tucson case drew attention because during the stop in October, a gathering crowd demanded that the officers release the two men, Agustin Reyes and Arturo Robles.
The men said they didn’t have identification on them and, although they gave their names, they refused to provide any more information. The police then called Border Patrol for further investigation.
At the time, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor denied racial profiling was involved. He told the Arizona Daily Star that the officer who made the stop also was Hispanic.
The two men were taken into custody by Border Patrol and later released on bond.
Tucson has 60 days to respond to the ACLU’s complaint.
Last year, the ACLU filed a complaint against another Arizona city, South Tucson, arguing that police illegally detained a 23-year-old man. In that case, the man was in the country illegally but had applied for tentative legal status under President Obama’s nondeportation policies.
The ACLU is still in negotiations with South Tucson over that complaint.
With the immigration debate stalled at the federal level for the past decade, states have tried to fill the gap. Arizona has led the pack of states pushing for stricter enforcement. Illinois, California and the District of Columbia have pushed for lax enforcement, and have gone so far as to prohibit state and local police from cooperating with federal immigration agents.
The Obama administration has sued the strict states but has not targeted the ones refusing to cooperate.