TPD Revises Immigration Policy ; 'Show Me Your Papers' No Longer in Effect in Tucson

By Perla Trevizo; Luis F Carrasco | AZ Daily Star, February 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

TPD Revises Immigration Policy ; 'Show Me Your Papers' No Longer in Effect in Tucson


Perla Trevizo; Luis F Carrasco, AZ Daily Star


Tucson police officers will no longer ask the immigration status of victims or witnesses of crimes as part of the department's revised general orders, which seek to be more aligned with federal enforcement priorities even as they continue to follow the state's immigration law.

Revised on Feb. 20, the general orders on immigration policy expressly acknowledge that "mere unauthorized presence in the United States is not a criminal offense, and enforcement of such civil violations is reserved for federal authorities."

The change comes after the Department of Homeland Security, citing limited resources, issued new guidance on who is a priority for deportation.

It includes which people federal agents and officers should stop, question and arrest as well as those who should be detained or released.

"The change in the federal priorities in November, with respect to the enforcement priorities that the federal government would recognize for immigration enforcement, provided a basis for us to re- evaluate the general orders," said City Attorney Mike Rankin.

The updated federal guidelines are part of President Obama's executive action on immigration.

When it comes to people already booked, the administration is asking Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transfer those in state or local custody only if they are a priority for deportation, including suspected terrorists or convicted felons.

TPD officers now will only make an immigration inquiry if a criminal history check first reveals that the arrestee falls within one of the identified federal enforcement priorities.

Under a provision of Arizona's immigration law SB 1070, police officers are required to try to check the status of anyone they stop if they believe those suspects are in the country illegally.

Since the implementation of the so-called "show me your papers" provision in 2012, the City Council has at times been at odds with Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, who has said he opposes the law but is bound to follow it.

An Arizona Daily Star investigation last year revealed that departments across the state have adopted widely varying interpretations and protocols.

TPD is one of just a few agencies that interpreted SB 1070 to require an immigration status check on everyone arrested -- regardless of whether an officer suspected unauthorized status.

Several times the Tucson City Council asked Villasenor to tweak his department's immigration policies as the debate over the bounds to SB1070-mandated status checks roiled on.

In November, Villasenor altered the agency's policies to emphasize that officers should focus on suspects, not the immigration status of victims or witnesses; require the presence of a parent or guardian to question a minor on immigration status; and try to find alternatives to towing a vehicle, when possible.

But he said he couldn't make a blanket prohibition without risking a lawsuit. A clause in the bill gives state residents the power to take legal action if they suspect an agency's enforcement is too lax.

The city attorney said that while it was his job to be concerned about lawsuits, the revised orders were not arrived at lightly.

"We didn't do this just reactionary -- we put a lot of thought into it, so we certainly feel it's defensible," Rankin said.

He also said that the federal judge who recently put a hold on the deferred action component of the president's executive action left the change in the federal enforcement priorities undisturbed.

Some of the changes under the new policy do exactly what City Council members such as Regina Romero had several times asked the department to do, but the chief had said would require him to violate the law to comply with them.

Romero said that while she did not want to diminish the effect of community pressure and the efforts by the mayor and council, the turning point were President Obama's actions and the new DHS guidelines. …

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