It has been over four years since Governor Jan Brewer signed Arizona's SB 1070 into law. The controversial bill, in part, requires officers to check a person's immigration status during law enforcement stops. Legal challenges came immediately, leading all the way up to the Supreme Court, who upheld the most controversial provision of the bill. However, a new lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of how the police enforce the law.
The bill was introduced by former Arizona Senator, Russell Pearce. The stated purpose behind SB 1070 was to stop illegal immigration. The bill requires law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is a “reasonable suspicion” that they are not in the country legally. Challenges came from the Justice Department, and the Supreme Court eventually struck down some provisions, but left in place the requirement for law enforcement to check immigration status.
Opponents of the law voiced concerns over the potential for abuse, and argued that the law would lead to racial profiling. Even some in law enforcement opposed the bill. Requiring police officers to check federal immigration status would divert police resources away from battling crime, and could increase distrust of police in the immigrant community. Unlawful immigrants may be less willing to report crimes, or come forward to assist investigations, fearing that they may be detained.
Now a new lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), challenging Pinal County sheriffs of unlawfully using the bill to detain an immigrant awaiting a visa. The lawsuit argues that the deputies violated the woman's constitutional right when they arrested her, and held her for five days, when there was no probable cause that she had committed a crime.
The woman, Maria Cortes, was stopped for a traffic violation, driving with a cracked windshield. The officer asked for a visa, and she showed a copy of her pending U-visa application, based on her status as a victim of domestic violence. However, the officer still placed her in a police car, and she spent five days in detention. Spokesperson for the Pinal County Sheriffs state that the officers were following the law.
Legal Director for the ACLU in Arizona, Dan Pochoda, said the officers did not understand that it is generally not a crime for an immigrant to be in the country without permission. For deputies to believe she was here illegally did not provide the justification for detaining her.
The divisive law faces additional challenges. The author of the bill, Russell Pearce, has been ordered by a federal district judge to comply with a subpoena to turn over documents related to the bill. Challengers to the law claim SB 1070 was created with a discriminatory intent, and they want access to emails and letters between lawmakers and advocates for increased immigration enforcement.
Ex-Senator Pearce faced more troubles, and recently resigned from his position as the state GOP First Vice Chairman after outrage following remarks he made on a talk show advocating mandatory contraception or sterilization for people on Medicaid.
Now, four years after the bill went into law, legal challenges continue to move forward against SB 1070.