Policing the police

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Lydia Guzman

Both the U.S. Supreme Court and a U.S. District judge, Susan Bolton, have cleared the way for the most hotly disputed part of Arizona’s “Show me your papers” law. Section 2B of SB1070 requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are not in the U.S. legally, and authorizes police to demand documents proving immigration or citizenship status from anyone they stop.

 The Court’s decision has instigated the formation of a statewide network of civil rights organizations who say they will protect people, regardless of their status, against racial profiling. The coalition’s strategy is multi-pronged, and includes a hotline, community workshops, lawyers’ free advice forums, disseminating information through Spanish-language media, cell-phone texting systems, social media, and even advocating the use of “I’ve been arrested” apps that will deliver pre-arranged plans for relatives or friends of the detained to pick up and care for their children.

Lydia Guzman, director of the nonprofit Respect/Respeto, says that the coalition’s purpose is to challenge this provision of the SB1070 law on constitutional grounds by giving the court what it has asked for: solid, documented cases of racial profiling. 

“We truly believe we can fight this thing (Section 2B),” Guzman says. “The court said, ‘I need injured parties; I need proof.’ Well, we’re ready to give it to them.”

Which organizations are in the alliance? A large number of grassroots groups that regularly deal with newly legalized immigrants, as well as undocumented immigrants. They include the Arizona ACLU, Puente, Tonatierra Community Development Institute, LULAC, Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy, and some churches, among others. In addition, legal advisor groups include Los Abogados Hispanic Bar Association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“This is a large network with groups from across the country,” Guzman says. “We are considered the model for other states where they are passing similar laws. Here in Arizona, we don’t need to invent anything. We established our procedures years ago with Sheriff Arpaio’s immigration sweeps. Other states look to us to set up their racial profiling coalitions.”

Guzman says that the response has been greatest from undocumented immigrants seeking information. The alliance hotline gets 1,500 calls a night. A small number of naturalized immigrants and citizen Latinos have called saying they have been stopped and perhaps racially profiled. “Our attorneys scrutinize each claim carefully,” Guzman said. She says that, despite police claims that they are trained not to racially profile, “I speak perfect English, and I worry I could get pulled over and be held longer than an Anglo person.”

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