Just days ago, we questioned how the coming immigration reform changes would affect Tucson and southern Arizona. It appears the Tucson Police Department had the same questions, and came to a similar conclusion. Despite the Arizona state laws, which have not yet changed in light of the coming executive actions, the police will no longer question all those they encounter about their immigration status.
Tucson police announced they would no longer fully enforce the state's far reaching law that requires local law enforcement to check on the immigration status of people they encounter. The new policy was announced by Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor. Villaseñor had previously spoken out against the law, but said his duty required him to abide by the law. Now, his officers will only check the immigration status and notify the Border Patrol when an individual has prior felony convictions, has gang affiliation, or may be a threat to national security.
The so-called “Show Me Your Papers” provision of SB 1070, was one of the more controversial pieces of the legislation, while at the same time one of the few parts of the law that was held up as constitutional after many other regulations were struck down. Tucson's will be the first major law enforcement agency to change SB 1070 enforcement. It is unclear how state officials will react to the announcement from the police department in Arizona's second largest city. A Phoenix Police Department spokesman, Sergeant Jonathan Howard said he does not believe his department was making SB 1070 policy changes.
Part of the decision was made based on the impracticality of the state requirement. Villaseñor said that in most cases immigration authorities never respond to the police reports. Since July, Tucson officers have made approximately 11,000 calls to immigration officials, receiving only 94 replies. Villaseñor called the process “a futile effort.”
The change in the local police department's immigration policy closely mirrors the executive action memos put out by the Department of Homeland Security. As laid out in the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants Memo, DHS created a three-tiered prioritization since DHS' limited resources made it impossible to remove all unlawful persons. The highest priority category includes those who: pose a danger to national security; are convicted of gang-related offenses; convicted of felony offenses; or are apprehended at the border.
In a similar announcement, the Tucson City Council and police department approved a contract that would bar police from asking students about their immigration status. Previously, Villaseñor and the city attorney said the state law would require asking about immigration status, even of students or their parents. The new agreement will result in having police acting as School Resource Officers in eight district schools.
Not surprisingly, former state Senator Russell Pearce, the man behind SB 1070 found the policy changes to be “nothing less than malfeasance.” Meanwhile, James Lyall, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona remains skeptical of the changes. “Are local law enforcement stopping people for the wrong reasons, are they holding them solely to conduct an investigation of their status? If either of those things are happening, that violates the law.”