A grant from the State of Arizona has provided for police officers to be placed in Tucson schools. However, the program is at risk of being eliminated because of the state's ever-controversial SB 1070, which would require officers to ask students about their immigration status. City leaders are now weighing the benefits of law enforcement against the potential risks to their students.
About five years ago, the Tucson Police Department had to eliminate their program of placing police officers in schools. This state grant would place officers in nine high schools and middle schools. The police, known as School Resource Officers, would patrol the schools, and provide law-related education to the students. According to police, the resource officers keep kids out of trouble, and can provide guidance.
But when City Council members were ready to sign off on the contracts to place the officers in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) and Amphitheater Public Schools, concerns were raised over the effects of SB 1070. Worried that police might ask student's about their immigration status, the Council has sought to make changes to the contract.
Initially, the Council asked for a full prohibition on asking about immigration status. However, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said that a full prohibition would be illegal and he could not order his officers to ignore the law. The proposed changes would include stipulations that police can only ask for a student's immigration status if it relates directly to an investigation, and only in the presence of the student's parent or attorney.
Now the State's $2.2 million grant may be at risk. TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez indicated the proposed changes were made after consulting legal counsel, in an effort to protect the students, in part based on a U.S. Supreme Court case which guarantees equal access to public education for all children including immigrants.
Although Police Chief Villaseñor has been a critic of SB 1070, he remains committed to upholding the laws of the State of Arizona, even if he may disagree with them. City Attorney Mike Rankin agrees that a prohibition on asking about immigration status is incompatible with the laws the police are required to enforce.
However, some disagree with their views of the law. According to Councilwoman Regina Romero, “the opinion of the chief of police and the city attorney is wrong.” Romero indicated that the legal precedence which prohibits denying education to immigrant children trumps the use of SB 1070 in schools.
Romero was on only council member who voted against the proposed contract changes because she thought the language did not go far enough to prevent police questioning students. Noting that parents should not have to worry that sending their children to school will end up getting them deported, the council should do all they can to eliminate that fear.
SB 1070 has been a controversial bill since it's inception, especially in self-proclaimed immigrant-friendly cities like Tucson. While much of the bill has been struck down as unconstitutional, and additional challenges continue to come forward, for now the most controversial part of the bill, that which requires police to ask about immigration status, has been upheld.